McNeill hosts roundtable with Secretary Tennis on addiction and treatment

ALLENTOWN, May 19 – State Rep. Dan McNeill today hosted a roundtable discussion with Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary Gary Tennis on addiction and treatment services.

"Addiction is a problem that is plaguing not only the Lehigh Valley but the entire state," McNeill said. "We must get a handle on this problem, and today’s roundtable at St. Luke’s continues the conversation we started at my town hall in February."

McNeill, joined by state Reps. Mike Schlossberg and Peter Schweyer, said he requested this discussion to raise awareness of the human cost surrounding Pennsylvania’s rapidly growing drug problem.   

"We are in the midst of the worst ever overdose death epidemic and the worst public health crisis of the last 100 years," Tennis said. "Governor Tom Wolf has made addressing the epidemic a top priority, and the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs has taken a lead role in helping keep Pennsylvanians alive and getting them into treatment and recovery."

According to a study by the Pennsylvania Coroners and Medical Examiners, there were 2,488 drug-related deaths in 2014 with 85 of them in Lehigh County.

"Pennsylvania unfortunately ranks among the top 10 states in per capita heroin and opioid deaths," Schlossberg said. "But discussions like the one hosted today by Representative McNeill are an important step in changing that reality.

"What I heard today reinforced the fact that the only way to start solving this issue is through a concerted effort – enlisting patients, police, service providers and the legislature – to end this addiction epidemic."

One testifier, who is currently in long-term recovery after 13 rehab attempts, said his addiction began at 14.

"I broke my leg snowboarding and I became addicted to opioids," Nicholas Labar said. "I thought it felt great and it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life."

A mother who lost her son due to an overdose said his addiction became louder than the desire for treatment.

"When the coroner came to tell me and my husband what happened, I told him that my son was a good person, you need to know that," Sharon Stauffer said. "That’s why I speak out. I hate the stigma and my son hated the shame that kept him from getting help."

"Heroin and opioid abuse have taken children from their parents and parents from their children. The end result impacts good people from every walk of life," Schweyer said. "Families who have lost loved ones are bravely telling their stories in the hope that other families do not suffer the same fate. 

"Fortunately, our community has invaluable resources like St. Luke’s that are mobilizing to stem the tide of heroin and opioid abuse. But only together can we truly curtail this crisis. I'm thrilled to have participated in this and I look forward to other discussions to learn more about what I can do to help be part of the solution." 

"I’m confident state and local officials can work together to find a way to combat the heroin crisis and prevent future overdose deaths," McNeill said.