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In Johnstown, Pa. officials look to stem tide of overdoses

By: - November 9, 2021 5:11 pm

Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary Jen Smith, speaks during a press conference, which discussed the need to expand our lens of focus from opioids to fighting overall substance use disorder with the increase of polysubstance and stimulant use across the commonwealth, inside Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency in Harrisburg on Monday, October 18, 2021 (Commonwealth Media Services photo).

Pennsylvania’s top drug and alcohol officials traveled to Cambria County Tuesday to meet with stakeholders and county officials about the increase in overdose deaths across the commonwealth. 

The roundtable discussion held in Johnstown, is part of a listening tour conducted by the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs to discuss local trends in substance abuse disorder with treatment providers, recovering members of the community and local officials. 

“We must continue to work together with the Cambria County Drug and Alcohol Program, and partners like them, across the commonwealth to ensure we are impacting the lives of those struggling with substance use disorder in a positive way,” DDAP Secretary Jen Smith said in a statement Tuesday. 

Pennsylvania has seen an increase in overdose deaths since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Capital-Star previously reported that Pennsylvania recorded 4,880 opioid overdose deaths in 2020, an increase of 422 deaths from 2019 figures. 

Pa. opioid deaths increased during COVID-19 pandemic, officials say

“The co-occurring impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the addiction crisis have been deeply felt in Pennsylvania and signal a need to address how we are combating this disease,” Smith said on Tuesday. 

As the pandemic raged, so did drug overdose deaths | The Numbers Racket

Cambria County, where Johnstown is located, has logged 68 deaths due to drug overdoses since 2012, according to state data. It is estimated that there are 4,361 people with drug use disorder in Cambria County. 

“Our first responders have saved many lives with Narcan and we have improved access to needed medications and treatment,” Fred Oliveros, Cambria County’s Drug and Alcohol Program administrator, said. “This conversation also tells us that we can prevent overdoses by providing strong supports for those who are at high risk of substance use, including those who have experienced personal trauma, as well as through our ongoing support of individuals who are living in recovery.”

Last month, the state agency said it would expand its focus to include all substance use disorders rather than just opioid dependence. 

With increase in polysubstance use, state agency will ‘expand’ focus from opioid epidemic

Smith said then that the expanded area of focus was due to an increase in polysubstance abuse, combining dangerous drugs such as fentanyl and heroin. 

So far in 2021, 2,279 overdose deaths have been reported statewide, according to the state Department of Health. 

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry. Miller has an extensive background in magazine writing, editing and design. She is a graduate of Penn State University where she served as the campus newspaper’s photo editor. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in professional journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In addition to her role at the Capital-Star, Miller enjoys working on her independent zines, Dead Air and Infrared. Follow her on Twitter: @Wordsby_CassieM.

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