Some called drug addiction a plague; others, a disease - but no matter what they called it, members of the newly-established Heroin Task Force came armed with strategies to fight the lethal problem Friday in the Lycoming County Courthouse.
"Heroin is a dead end. We want to know when and how use starts. What's the root cause in this area? Why do people do this?" Dr. Portia Brandt, chairwoman of the task force's education subcommittee and superintendent of Muncy School District, said.
Drug overdoses killed 18 people last year in Lycoming County alone, according to Coroner Charles Kiessling. Eight of those deaths were due to heroin, Kiessling said.
"These people are our neighbors, friends and human beings. We need to give them hope and light," Dr. Rene R. Rigal, chairman of the task force's medical subcommittee and physician at Susquehanna Health said.
Led by President Judge Nancy Butts, experts in faith, business, medicine, education and human services buzzed with ideas for solving the local heroin problem. Public education and outreach was the primary focus.
"All of us are working with clients in addiction or recovery. Who are the missing populations and how can we reach them?" Mae-Ling Kranz, chairwoman of the human service subcommittee and co-director of Wise Options said.
Using drug forfeiture money, the district attorney's office in consultation with Impact Advertising develop the task force's marketing strategy. In addition to a logo and mission statement, the task force has created brightly-colored help cards that read, "Want to get clean and sober? Here's help: 1-888-941-2721."
"All calls are confidential," Butts said.
The task force plans to promote its mission and helpline number in a myriad of ways: payroll stuffers, informational inserts in church bulletins and even public service announcements at movie theaters and football games.
"We have quick blurbs that can be announced," Brandt said.
The task force also identified strategies for fighting drug-related crime by focusing on rental properties. In collaboration with the city's Nuisance Property Task Force, the law enforcement subcommittee brainstormed ways to discourage drug activity by applying the Civil Use Abatement Statute more broadly.
"Stoops on front steps on houses along Second Street invite loitering. We talked about removing those stoops," Law Enforcement Subcommittee Chair and District Attorney Eric R. Linhardt said.
Linhardt also hopes to educate landlords about how to attract quality tenants by drafting better lease agreements.
In addition to heroin, prescription drugs also is a major concern of the task force. For the first time ever, prescription drug overdose is the number one cause of death among 18 to 32 year olds, according Rigal.
"People should not have a pharmacy in their medicine cabinets and trash cans are not the answer. We need to make prescription take-back boxes more available to consumers," Commissioner Jeff Wheeland said.
State Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, who attended Friday's meeting, said his website features a comprehensive list of prescription take-back box locations.
Citing the likelihood of future financial need, members also discussed possible funding sources to keep the task force going.
"We plan to register as a nonprofit at Raise the Region on March 12. Any money raised there will be put toward the Heroin Task Force," Shea Madden, executive director of the West Branch Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission said.
The Heroin Task Force will hold its next closed meeting in March.