DOYLESTOWN >> With the number of overdose deaths in Bucks County soaring, a cross-section of politicians, law enforcement leaders, recovery specialists and others came together Thursday morning to combat the drug crisis confronting the community.
Led by Robert Whitley, they announced an all out blitz of 70-plus action awareness events over the next 10 days leading up to a “Together We Can Convention” on April 28 at the Newtown Athletic Club aimed at involving everyone in the battle against addiction.
“This crisis has been ravaging our community and the blitz is an effort to saturate our community with events, to step up our game, focus our energies and efforts in getting the community involved, break the stigma, raise awareness and get some forward momentum,” said Whitley, who is organizing the blitz for the nonprofit group, Truth Speaks.
“And the crisis is bad,” said Whitley, noting that in 2015 there were 117 drug overdoses in the county, rising to 168 in 2016 and to 231 in 2017, which is two every three days. “And it hasn’t stopped,” he said.
“We need to put an end to it and the only way to do that is if everyone gets involved,” said Whitley, adding that Bucks County can’t sentence, legislate or spend its way out of the problem.
“This is a call for all hands on deck,” said Whitley. “And that’s what this is. The Blitz is an all hands on deck effort. It has to be a combined effort as a community.”
Last year, during the first blitz, Whitley said seven events were held in 10 days. This year, he said, 71 events will take place throughout the county during the 10-day blitz.
“I would urge you all to take a look at that list. I would urge you all to support all of the events,” he said, adding that the complete list can be accessed at Truthspeaks.net.
“It’s only through the combined effort of the community that this is occurring. Its an organic thing. People have this in their heart,” said Whitley. “They want to do something. They want to be involved.”
Whitley shared three words that he said have been a guiding focus for him when addressing the addiction problem - engage, embrace and encourage.
“We all need to engage,” he said. “Addiction and the stigma is a method in which people become disengaged. We need to counteract that by engaging.
“A stigma put on someone causes them to be an outcast. We need to be engaged and then we need to embrace them,” he said. “Treat them as people. Be with other people and embrace these people.
“We also need to encourage,” he said. “We need to encourage one another. We need to encourage those with an addiction. We need to encourage their families and loved ones. And we need to encourage the community. We need to fight that disconnect. Because if we disconnect we die. If we connect, we live and survive,” he said.
In a symbolic show of unity, Whitley joined with the 13 speakers taking part in the blitz announcement in raising their hands in the air and saying, “Together We Can.”
Among them was District Attorney Matthew Weintraub, who brought the issue to the forefront as he personally lobbied every municipality in the county to equip their police departments with Narcan, an easy to administer spray that can reverse an overdose and save lives.
“I truly believe Bucks County is the best place to live, work and raise a family. It’s also the best place right now going to raise awareness about this terrible scourge that is affecting every facet of our lives,” said Weintraub. “It’s also the best place for us to connect each other with the resources that already exist out there for people who are in need, who are in pain, who are seeking recovery.
“We realize these are our brothers, our sisters, our loved ones, our neighbors, our friends, our coworkers and we need to support them in their step toward recovery,” he said. “Bucks is best for recovery, but it’s also best for education. We have to make sure our young people have the knowledge they need to make smart choices, to make positive choices, to know there are positive alternatives out there.
“Bucks is also best for hope,” said Weintraub. “That’s why we’re all here today - to be the message that Bucks is best for healing ... If everybody does their part we will eradicate this scourge together.”
Lorina Marshall-Blake, the president of the Independence Blue Cross Foundation, the major sponsor of the Together We Can Convention, called the epidemic “the greatest health challenge of our time. But I’m hopeful we will change the outcome and begin to recover as a society,” she said. “The key is to work together as a community and today is a great start.
“Addiction is a civic and morale issue for all of us. And everyone here can make a difference,” she said, adding that Independence Blue Cross is doing its part by working to keep prescription drugs out of the wrong hands so that people don’t become addicted and to help it’s members get treatment. “We’re also looking for new ways to end this crisis.”
Diane Rosati, the executive director of the Bucks County Drug and Alcohol Commission, brought two messages to the event and to the greater community wrestling with the affects of addiction - one of hope and one of help.
“We know that addiction is a treatable disease. There are over 23.5 million Americans living today in long term recovery and we aim to increase that number in Bucks County,” said Rosati.
“The help that we offer is many fold,” she continued. “It includes help for your family members, for your neighbors, for yourselves to access drug and alcohol treatment, help for people who survived an overdose and need the next step, health and prevention and knowing where, how and when to drop off your unused, unwanted and expired medications, and help in many other forms, including for family members who are concerned about their minor children using drugs and don’t know where to turn. We offer hope, we offer help and we’re simply a phone call away - 215-773-9313. We’re here to help,” she said.
Also speaking at the Blitz Kick-Off were Charles Martin, Bucks County Commissioner; Diane M. Ellis-Marseglia, Bucks County Commissioner; Lorina Marshall-Blake, President of Independence Blue Cross Foundation; Sean Murphy of the Kaitlin Murphy Foundation; Brandon Novak, Movie Celebrity, former athlete and NY Times Best Selling Author; Marguerite Quinn, PA State Representative, 143rd Legislative District; Gene DiGirolamo, PA State Representative, 18th Legislative District; John Galloway, PA State Representative, 140th Legislative District; Don Colamesta, Bucks County Recovery House Association; Elizabeth Drew, M.D., Board Certified in Addiction Medicine; and Sue Simon, District Director, office of U.S. Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick.
For details on the blitz events taking place throughout the county, visit www.Truthspeaks.net.
The “Together We Can Convention - Addressing Addiction and the Opioid Crisis in Bucks County in a Big Way” takes place from 12 to 4 p.m. on April 28 at the Newtown Athletic Club’s Sports Training Center, 120 Pheasant Run, Newtown 18940.
The event will feature 100 exhibitors, music and speakers, workshops and resources, Faith Based Recovery, Recovery and Beyond, support groups, NARCAN training, a drug take back collection and lots more. The event is free and open to the public.