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Recovery from addiction is our fight

Changing Pathways to Recovery

Many of our neighbors, friends and family in Butler County find themselves entangled in the thralls of addiction. The pain and consequence of that addiction continues to flow through the entire community. The cost is extreme.

The impact on health care, emergency medicine resources, court system, prison population, lost job hours and disrupted education is compounded by loss of life and the potential of those who have died from overdoses.

There have been 678 overdose deaths in the county since 2011, according to OverdoseFreePA. Sixty-five of those deaths occurred last year.

With “Changing Pathways to Recover: A community’s fight against addiction,” we hope to refocus the conversation and highlight new paths forward.

Donna Sybert, managing editor

In the six-week series, Butler Eagle reporters will tell the stories of those who have firsthand experience with addiction and medical experts who know how the brain works and understand how repetitive behaviors enforce those pathways.

We have reached out to local groups combating addiction here and organizations elsewhere that have made strides in their community’s battles against addiction.

The fight is not a new one.

County Chief Detective Tim Fennell notes in the series that he has seen the community’s struggle with drugs throughout his career. From his time as an officer to county drug task force member, he has dealt with those using marijuana and LSD in the 1970s, crack cocaine in the 1990s, heroin in the mid-2000s followed by fentanyl, a factor in the majority of overdoes deaths today, according to the Butler County Opioid Coalition.

Over the decades, the Butler Eagle has covered the various community forums, neighborhood campaigns, and different tactics and philosophies used to try and stem the crisis.

Knowing where we were as a community will help us identify what works and accept more pathways forward toward recovery and reduction of overdose deaths. It is, after all, everyone’s fight.

In 2016, 74 overdose deaths — 39.6 per 100,000 residents in Butler County — stunned the county. Butler County outpaced the national rate of 19.8 deaths per 100,000 people, using figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pennsylvania’s 2016 overdose fatality rate of 4.642 people was 37.9 deaths per 100,000 residents.

The crisis brought county officials, educators, community leaders and others together in 2017 working to educate the public and stem the loss of life. The situation was so dire that once a month the number of overdoses was posted on the Eagle editorial page comparing the deaths to 2016; shockingly that total was reached by mid-November.

High school auditoriums were packed so the public could learn firsthand about the depth of the crisis. Bravely stepping up to tell their experiences were people who had struggled with addiction and were working on their recovery.

Overdose deaths hit 92 in the county that year.

In 2018, Gov. Tom Wolf declared Pennsylvania’s opioid epidemic a 90-day, statewide disaster emergency. More resources were directed to expand the role of health care professions, and access to naloxone was made more available and acceptable.

The increased efforts brought results in Butler County; there were 46 drug-related deaths that year, according to the coroner. The next five years has seen overdose deaths rise and fall from 60 in 2019 to 73 in 2020.

What has changed today?

Experts like Dr. C. Thomas Brophy, from the Ellen O’Brien Gaiser Center, present us with an arsenal of intelligence that’s been uncovered on how addiction affects the pathways of the brain. The chemical changes brought from continued use and destructive behaviors wipe out a person’s ability make the very decisions that could save their lives.

Behavioral therapy and counseling can now be combined with medications to assist with recovery. But what treatment may work for one person may be disastrous for another, Brophy told the Eagle.

Bottom line: There are still no short cuts to recovery.

But there are many ways the community can support the recovery process. As we learn about the pathways opening for those in recovery in this series, we also focus on the many barriers including stigma.

How the community treats its neighbors working on recovery can impact their chances of success — their ability to find employment as well as appropriate health care and treatment.

That is something that we can work to change.

Donna Sybert, managing editor of the Butler Eagle, is a longtime resident of Butler County and began her career with the Eagle in 1982.

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