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At DelVal, a night to reflect on addiction, violence


As drug and alcohol addiction continues to plague the country, a panel of Bucks County experts joined the Pennsylvania Attorney General Monday to discuss ways to combat substance abuse disorder across the region.

Attorney General Michelle Henry was joined by Bucks County’s district attorney, Matt Weintraub, Dr. Brenda Foley, Doylestown Hospital’s emergency department’s medical director, Kevin Keller, a licensed professional counselor with the Network of Victim Assistance and David Fialko, an internationally certified prevention specialist with The Council of Southeast Pa., Inc.

The wide-ranging discussion at the university’s Life Sciences Building focused on the intensifying potency of drugs and the dramatic toll abuse takes not only on individuals and families, but also the larger community.

“The crisis of addiction is difficult and complex,” said Marion Callahan, an assistant professor of media and communication at DelVal, as she introduced the panel. “The healing power of community is what it takes to save lives.”

AG Henry, a onetime Bucks County prosecutor, who served as the county’s DA in 2008, said she came to see the cycle of arrest, sentencing and incarceration of those with substance abuse disorder as a “revolving door.”

“We can’t arrest our way out of this problem,” she told the audience of about 100. The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office, said Henry, is working to “fight it on all fronts.”

A $26 billion dollar opioid lawsuit settlement in 2021 with three major drug distributors and Johnson & Johnson directed almost $45M to Bucks County for prevention, treatment and recovery programs. The payments are spread out over 18 years.

“This was a huge, huge settlement,” said Henry.

The money is specifically earmarked and can be used to focus on access to treatment, a key component in helping end the cycle of addiction, the experts agreed.

DA Weintraub spoke about his own change in thinking about addiction over the course of his career. Where once, he said, “my goal was to lock people up,” after serving on the Bucks County Drug and Alcohol Commission, he better understands more work is needed.

He listed his five goals around substance abuse disorder: Keep a person alive; get people into treatment as soon as possible; ensure the person deals with their criminal charges; help them reenter society and then see them again, unless it’s at the grocery store.

“This takes hard work,” said Weintraub, “and commitment of the community. Nobody is disposable. Everyone is worthy of saving.”

Dr. Foley expressed grave concern about the escalating violence taking place in the hospital’s ER and in others across the country.

While stressing that those with substance abuse disorder are not inherently violent, she said, “There’s a surge in violence against healthcare workers,” by those under the influence of drugs such as meth, cocaine, heroin, PCP, fentanyl and alcohol, with those suffering alcohol abuse the primary offenders, she said.

In 2018, Foley said, nearly half of emergency room physicians suffered injuries from patients. Approximately 70 percent of nurses were hit or kicked on the job. Healthcare workers are suffering verbal, sexual and racial assaults.

“My colleagues are becoming patients,” said the doctor. Many are leaving the profession. “We need a security presence with training in de-escalation. Healthcare workers need to be supported.”

Fialko, with the Council of Southeast Pa., spoke of the cycle of violence for substance abusers. “Violence is kind of a two-way street,” in that drug and alcohol abusers also often become victims of violence in their efforts to get high. And, he noted, those with addiction frequently come from homes where violence and trauma are common. “They need compassion, hope, empathy,” in recovery.

The prevention specialist also emphasized the increased potency of drugs and alcohol. “Marijuana is stronger, with THC concentrations at 80 percent’ alcohol can be vaped, putting the user at high risk of alcohol poisoning.

“There’s an entire generation being told marijuana ‘is just a plant’,” said Fialko. “It’s the biggest, largest disservice… with the potential to steal their discovery of what they’re passionate about.”

Use of Methamphetamine, for which there is no medical treatment, is on the rise. Fentanyl, — and now xylazine, a horse tranquilizer that does not respond to Narcan, — is being mixed with heroin and is causing horrific skin wounds. Fentynal is being pressed into tablets that look like Xanax. “This really, really concerns me,” said Weintraub.

On Tuesday it was announced that Acting Secretary of Health Dr. Debra Bogen has submitted a notice of intent to temporarily add xylazine to the list of schedule III drugs under Pennsylvania’s Controlled Substance, Drug, Device, and Cosmetic Act.

In his role as a counselor with NOVA, Keller said, he sees “the impact of addiction and its ability to destroy an entire family. It’s much bigger than an individual…it has to be looked at systemically.”

The program was part of DelVal’s larger series of 2023 discussions entitled “Question It! Change It! Violence in America.”

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