On Monday, April 3, at 7 p.m. in the Community Arts Center in Williamsport, author Sam Quinones will present an educational lecture based upon his award-winning nonfiction book, “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic.” The program is sponsored the Clear Focus Affinity Community at Lycoming College, Penn College, UPMC Susquehanna, Project Bald Eagle and State Sen. Gene Yaw’s office.
Free and open to the public, the Quinones presentation offers an opportunity to learn more about the causes of a public health issue that has been recognized as a crisis at the local, state and national level. Led by President Judge Nancy Butts, members of the Lycoming County Heroin Task Force were pioneers in developing local awareness of the extent of the problem, as well as highlighting treatment options. Through hearings held by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, State Senator Gene Yaw has done much to advance public understanding that the underlying core issue is addiction to opioids, both prescription medications and heroin; and that this crisis affects all communities, urban and rural. Funded by Penn College, Lycoming College and Susquehanna Health, a coalition of community leaders formed Project Bald Eagle to expand and institutionalize the work of the Task Force.
In the 2016-17 Commonwealth of Pennsylvania budget, Governor Wolf and the Republican leadership of the legislature worked together to allocate $20.4 million to expand treatment options for Pennsylvanians struggling with opioid use disorder. The funding is supporting the creation of forty-five Centers of Excellence throughout the state. Since FY 2016, federal budgets have also included billions of dollars to combat the opioid crisis.
A group of students at Lycoming College deserve credit for initiating Quinones’ visit to Williamsport. The students compose an intellectual affinity housing unit at the college called Clear Focus. They have chosen to participate in a housing option where students elect to live with others who share an interest in an idea or area of study. The Clear Focus students have committed both to living in a substance free environment and expanding community knowledge of the problem of substance abuse.
Advised by Assistant Professors Sarah Holstein (Psychology) and Michael Kurtz (Economics), the Clear Focus community conceived a presentation by Quinones during a summer planning session. They then built funding support by reaching out to the event co-sponsors listed above. I am incredibly proud of the students for their role in conceiving and organizing this event as well as for their commitment to enhancing public awareness of the many threads that have given rise to this national epidemic.
“Dreamland” represents an exceptional example of investigative journalism. It opens by recounting the tragic death of Matt Schoonover from a middleclass family in Columbus, Ohio, who developed an addiction to opiate pain relievers while in college and died from an overdose of black tar heroin while living at home. Quinones helps us recognize that Matt’s death was not an isolated event but part of an epidemic that has spread to urban and rural communities throughout the country. It identifies a complex web of factors that have caused this epidemic — among others the emergence of opioids as “miracle drug” fueling a revolution in pain treatment in American medicine; the development of a sophisticated distribution network for black tar heroin grown in Xalisco, Nayarit, Mexico; the role of the pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma in promoting the use of potent opioid pain reliever OxyContin, the fertile ground created by the economic decline of small manufacturing cities, and the culpability of “pill mills” and their investors. He closes with a glimpse into emerging community coalitions seeking to reverse this deadly epidemic.
I invite everyone to join us in listening to this important author. His presentation will provide insight into how we can collaborate to combat the local manifestation of the opioid epidemic, save lives and secure the quality of life in our community.
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