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Experts “tell it like it is” on drug addiction


Washington Crossing Cares opened a community forum to discuss “Drug Trends, Communities and the Brain” at The Crossing United Methodist Church Chapel in Washington Crossing.

Bucks County attorney Robert Whitley moderated the forum, which addressed the impact of the national drug epidemic on Bucks County – 2017 was the worst year for drug overdose deaths in America with 72,000 drug fatalities, up from 64,000 in 2016.

Bucks County alone saw 430 drug-related deaths in 2017, an alarming increase from 168 in 2016 – 5,900 of the 2017 deaths occurred in Pennsylvania.

Heroin and fentanyl abuse comprise the top two drugs implicated in overdose deaths at autopsy. Of the 2016 deaths in the county, white males comprised the biggest demographic at 103, with an average age of 35.

Ana Rosado, clinical director for the Bucks County Drug and Alcohol Commission, spoke of the variety of substances that are abused, including tobacco, alcohol, party drugs such as ecstasy and cocaine, marijuana, prescription pills and synthetic drugs such as K2, spice, bath salts and methamphetamines. She added that household items are also abused, from whipped cream propellant to medicine cabinet drugs like cough syrup and even nutmeg and vanilla.

Rosado said that death prevention includes Narcan, a nasal spray available to the public that is an emergency treatment for opioid overdose. Any Pennsylvania resident can purchase Narcan from a pharmacy. A medication take-back program is also an option to remove unwanted, dangerous or expired drugs.

Two Centers of Excellence in Bucks County coordinate team-based care for people on Medicaid, including psychiatric and nursing support. The COEs are the Penn Foundation (267-404-5990) and Family Service Association (215-717-6916). The Penn Foundation also provides a program called Mobile Engagement Services (MES) which is designed to break down barriers for such support.

Other resources include BCARES, a countywide initiative assisting survivors of opioid overdose. The acronym describes its services: connect, assess, refer, engage and support. Bucks County Police also provide a program called BPAIR (Bucks County Police Assisting in Recovery).

Rosado reminded the forum that Act 53, a Pennsylvania law, empowers parents and legal guardians with getting children into treatment if they meet specific age and proof of abuse criteria. She also provided information on recovery centers, legal services such as drug court and the District Court Diversionary Program, and recovery options in the penal system. The latter include jail recovery units, halfway houses, transitional houses, recovery houses and sober houses.

She closed her presentation with the “good news” that drug abuse is preventable, addiction treatable and recovery possible.

David Fialko, a certified prevention specialist with the Council of Southeast Pa., closed the forum with a presentation on the Addicted Brain, explaining how drug addiction occurs and what makes it so difficult to break free from its chemical grip.

He described drug addiction as a compulsive behavior with a similar process to other addictions such as compulsive gambling, eating disorders, and spending and sexual addictions.

The fulcrum of addiction lies in the chemical “reward center” of the brain, which Fialko described as taking advantage of neurotransmitter-induced “natural rewards.” Those “happy” chemicals include mood-stabilizing serotonin, pleasure-inducing dopamine, pain-relieving endorphins, and the nurturing “love hormone” oxycotin.

Using dopamine as an example, Fialko described a natural level increase of 5 percent during a good conversation, which can be up to 50 percent during intimate relations. But drugs can increase that further, from 150 percent for cannabis to 1,400 percent from opioids.

The danger of addiction is that no “work” is necessary, and the strength of the drugs can far outpace the body’s need or desire to seek more healthy and natural reward.

Further information can be obtained from the Bucks County Drug and Alcohol Commission at 215-773-9643 or the 24-hour Bucks County Mobile Crisis Intervention Services at 800-499-7455.