National opioid epidemic rises in the nation

Local News

A national epidemic overshadowed by the pandemic is sweeping the country.

Painkiller prescriptions may be down from 2016, but opioid drug use continues in a big way.

“This is not just an addict problem, this is an entire community problem,” said Vicki Church, Recovery Specialist at UPMC Western Behavioral Health at Safe Harbor.

Vicki Church is a recovered opioid user who now counsels others who are struggling with addiction.

Starting at a young age while trying new drugs accelerated her struggle.

“Then I got into the drugs and the opioids and whatever we can get our hands on,” said Church.

For many of her clients, trying new drugs can have fatal consequences. One major reason is fentanyl.

“It has been terrible. You see it everywhere,” said Church.

In 2017, about half of fatal overdoses in Erie County were from fentanyl. By 2020 it rose to 75%.

Fentanyl is fifty times more potent than heroin and comes in different disguises such as copy cat pain pills.

“Your drug dealer has a drug dealer who has a drug dealer. So you never know what you are getting,” said Church.

Erie is a hub that sits at the intersection of routes that connect the great lakes and Northeast regions.

The White House has an office for national drug control policy. That office has designated Erie County a high intensity drug trafficking area.

This means better equipment for police and more federal intel.

U.S. Senator Pat Toomey said that treating their user is also key.

“I’m in favor of trying to find ways to restrict the supply side of these drugs, but ultimately we really have to figure out how to help people who are the source of the demand,” said Senator Pat Toomey, (R) PA.

Specialists like Church are ready to help.

“Recovery is possible and I mean there’s so much living proof out here,” said Church.

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