Drug epidemic knows no boundaries; can be overcome

Mary Doherty, community services manager at CORA and a 42-year veteran of the agency, believes there is a false perception about drug use in the Northeast.

“Nothing happens north of Cottman Avenue,” she said.

In reality, Doherty said, users operate behind closed doors.

“The Northeast drug problem is in the house,” she said.

Last week, CORA Services, 8540 Verree Road in Fox Chase, hosted the fourth and final community listening session of the Mayor’s Task Force to Combat the Opioid Epidemic.

The task force will produce a final report by the end of April.

At the Feb. 2 session, guests learned that more than 28,000 Americans die each year of opioid overdoses. It is believed Philadelphia had 840 drug overdose deaths in 2016. That’s almost three times the homicide rate.

Eighty percent of the drug overdose deaths in Philadelphia are related to prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl.

Among those in attendance were City Councilman Allan Domb and former Councilman and state House Speaker Denny O’Brien.

O’Brien believes a public-private partnership will help alleviate the opioid problem, and he urged the public to visit their legislators’ offices.

“You have to go back week after week after week,” he said.

Evan Figueroa-Vargas is a former addict who is now on target to be the first in his family to graduate college.

“I feel blessed that I was able to overcome my addiction,” he said.

Figueroa-Vargas said addicts and their loved ones need to keep hope.

“Recovery is possible,” he said.

Folks at the session were given the microphone for two minutes to say whatever they wanted.

Somebody mentioned a program at Temple for drug-addicted pregnant women and new moms.

A man promoted the faith-based Adult & Teen Challenge.

A minister at City Reach Church, 6814 Torresdale Ave., said his church offers prayer and other assistance for addicts.

A couple of people said acupuncture can help addicts.

Several members of Angels in Motion said their grassroots organization can help. Meetings are held the second Tuesday of the month from 7 to 9 p.m. at St. David’s Lutheran Church, 9169 Academy Road. To learn more, go to aimangelsinmotion.org or check out its Facebook page.

The Philadelphia Police Department’s Heads Up program teaches kids about the dangers of drugs. To schedule a “Scared Straight” presentation at a school, educators can call 215–685–1120.

Rebecca Barnes, principal of Roxborough’s Bridge Way School, a high school for recovering addicts, called for early intervention. She said studies show that 86 percent of young people who are in recovery for five years stay drug free for the long term.

“These kids are doing really, really well. We are keeping kids out of jail. They didn’t think they’d be alive at 17,” she said.

Arthur Evans, the task force co-chairman and the outgoing commissioner of the city Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, said addicts and their families can call a 24-hour, seven-day hotline at 888–545–2600. He also recommended people take an anonymous self-assessment to test their mood at healthymindsphilly.org

Evans, who next month will become CEO of the American Psychological Association, agreed with Figueroa-Vargas that recovery is possible.

“We have to stay engaged in this process. There is hope,” he said. ••

For more information, visit dbhids.org/opioids or phila.gov/opioids