Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia, which works to identify and raise awareness about key public health issues, has in recent years placed an emphasis on the opioid epidemic.
The urgency and importance of the crisis in Montgomery County was on display in Bala Cynwyd on Oct. 23, when JFCS hosted a panel addressing the opioid epidemic that kicked off its Addressing Addiction program series.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro headlined the discussion. He was joined by Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele and Family Services of Montgomery County Director of Programs and Services Kelly Canally-Brown.
“We see many clients who are suffering every day, and what we want to do is help those people,” said Lisa Ney, JFCS’ director of programming and community involvement. “We provide programs to engage people in the community so they can become more educated. When there’s a need we want to meet that need and provide as much help and support as possible.”
The Oct. 23 panel was the third event the organization has done about the opioid epidemic. The drug crisis has hit Pennsylvania particularly hard: The state saw about 5,500 drug overdose deaths in the 12 months leading up to January, according to an unofficial count from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from August.
Steele, Canally-Brown and JFCS Family Life Educator Sarah Waxman wrote an editorial for the Exponent about how the opioid epidemic has hurt Montgomery County.
“In Montgomery County, the number of overdose deaths is equally staggering. In 2016, 249 people died of overdose, and in 2017, 245 people died, each leaving behind a family grappling to understand how this is happening to them,” they wrote. “In Montgomery County, we are combating this epidemic in every conceivable way.”
The Oct. 23 panel attracted about 40 guests, most of whom were addiction professionals and local parents. The hallway leading into the panel was dotted with tables set up by community and treatment providers, including representatives from Caron Treatment Centers and The Bridge Way School. (Students at the latter must have at least 30 days of sobriety, be actively working a recovery program and seeking a strong college-preparatory program that recognizes individual learning styles).
Shapiro spoke first. Since taking office in January 2017, he said he’s made the opioid epidemic a priority, and he spoke about the continued importance of fighting the problem. He’s placed a big emphasis on the state’s drug take-back program in addition to increasing resources to identify and pursue big drug dealers. Steele touched on his approach as the county’s district attorney, which includes prosecuting doctors who write illegal prescriptions for opioids.
Canally-Brown offered a different viewpoint. Instead of focusing on law enforcement, she spoke about the importance of childhood prevention.
Canally-Brown works with JFCS Director of Education and Outreach Services Adrienne Gavern-Tomlinson on the Commonwealth Prevention Alliance. Gavern-Tomlinson said she and Canally-Brown agree that there isn’t enough focus in the industry on prevention.
“There’s more money that is directed toward treatment than there is to prevention,” she said.