By Peter Schorr
“Not in my backyard.”
That’s often the response when proposing a new mental health and substance use facility in a community. It’s not that neighbors are opposed to the facility itself; they’re just opposed to the location. But that wasn’t the case when I came to Ephrata looking to build Retreat Behavioral Health. I found the people warm and welcoming, and I couldn’t be more appreciative of that response as Retreat marks its tenth anniversary this month.
It is truly shocking to witness how much has changed in those ten years. Addiction has always been a significant issue in society.
However, in the past, it was viewed as an issue of willpower. Campaigns like “Just Say No” in the 1980s and 1990s were ineffective against the “War on Drugs.”
But over the past decade, we’ve seen the opioid epidemic dominate the headlines, stealing countless lives. Pennsylvania had nearly 5,200 overdose deaths last year, and experts project that number will rise this year as the pandemic continues to take a toll. Mental health issues have also been growing, especially during this time.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between August 2020 and February 2021, the number of people who experienced symptoms of anxiety or depression increased from 36.4 percent to 41.5 percent.
Fortunately, with an increased spotlight on these issues, we’ve also seen greater empathy and a reduced stigma. Part of that is the power of celebrity.
We’ve witnessed young stars like Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez, Simone Byles, and Naomi Osaka talk candidly about the mental health and addiction challenges they’ve faced.
This change, combined with the rise of social media, has opened the door to more honest and open dialogue. The public now has a greater understanding of the fact that addiction is a disease and that struggling with your mental health does not make you “crazy.” These subjects are at the forefront of society in a way unlike ever before.
While we appreciate how society has evolved to provide increased support to those in need of treatment, policymakers need to match that commitment.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf recently signed the 15th renewal of his opioid disaster declaration to help fight the epidemic. Unfortunately, legislative leaders opted out of renewing this declaration, letting it expire last week. We need to put the political fights aside to recognize that this disaster declaration has helped expand access to treatment, getting rid of the red tape that prevents many people in need from getting help.
Additionally, that declaration has allowed the health department to keep sharing information from Pennsylvania’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program with other agencies.
That program collects data on all filled prescriptions for controlled substances, which helps healthcare providers safely prescribe controlled substances to patients.
If the the General Assembly wants to address this critical need with legislation, it should do so immediately. Pennsylvania’s opioid overdose rate has increased by 16-percent over the past year, and we can’t risk losing this critical initiative.
In my time leading Retreat at Lancaster County, I am proud to say that our staff has guided more than 41,000 patients through inpatient and outpatient programs throughout the past ten years.
While we are blessed to have helped countless alums get into recovery and maintain that recovery, our goal is for fewer people to need professional treatment in the first place.
We call on our leaders to work with those in the treatment space to create more prevention initiatives, like the monitoring program, and ensure that we end this epidemic.
As I remind our team daily, “We can’t save the world, but we can sure as hell try.”
Peter Schorr is the founder and CEO of Retreat Behavioral Health in Ephrata, Pa.
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