(The Center Square) – Successful recovery from drug addiction goes beyond overdose reversal drugs and rehab, advocates say, amid a statewide push to prioritize social and community support for former users.
“People that use substances aren’t bad people and I think the realization is setting in that (addiction) can happen to anybody,” Breanne Pugh, a project coordinator with the Washington County Drug and Alcohol Commission, said.
In Washington County alone, the commission gave out more than 2,000 Narcan kits in the last year to better prepare the public if they encounter anyone who’s overdosed. After Pennsylvania expanded naloxone access in 2018, the emphasis was on getting it to first responders, but in recent years has included the general public as well.
The commission recently joined more than two dozen state organizations to hand out free naloxone as part of Appalachian Save a Life Day, an event held at 1,500 locations across the region earlier this month.
“Basically anyone who can stumble upon an overdose, someone who could be the first on the scene, qualifies for receiving Narcan — which is pretty much everyone,” Pugh said.
In April, the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs announced that it had sent out more than 1.3 million doses of naloxone since 2017, and more than 500,000 doses in the last two years.
The commonwealth’s drug problems, however, aren’t limited to overdoses or the rise of other drugs such as xylazine. In Washington County, the commission plans to offer more services to connect with people.
“We are in the process of opening up a drop-in center where people have the opportunity to get off the streets in the cold, it’ll be a safe place they can go,” Pugh said.
The commission plans to host meetings there, let people shower, do laundry, and get clothing and hygiene supplies. The center is a way to get people help, whether early in treatment or needing a fresh start.
“People that are going to treatment or people that are coming out of jail, or don’t have anything — it’s just a way to help them get started, get themselves back on their feet,” Pugh said.
It’s an approach more places are embracing.
Allegheny County has spent $3.6 million from its portion of the opioid settlement fund mostly on recovery services and treatment access. Northumberland County has spent almost $200,000 to expand its “warm handoff” program, which connects released inmates as well as the general population with recovery specialists to deal with their substance issues. York County has also announced $2.3 million in opioid funds for a variety of recovery support programs.
“People can and do recover,” Mike Krafick, a certified recovery specialist and CRS supervisor at the Armstrong-Indiana-Clarion Drug and Alcohol Commission. “We see a lot of coverage around the problem … and maybe not as much coverage that people do recover, that different programs are helping people get back into the workforce.”
The recovery center in Indiana does more than offer services. It builds community for people who need it, Krafick said.
The recovery center in Kittaning, he noted, has about 200 active members. The center helps people move on from being “beaten down and broken by what addiction does to people.”
Part of the goal is to give people a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
“As they engage in the recovery process and start to heal, you see a spark when people find that meaning and purpose — their reason and passion for doing something,” Krafick said. “If we can find more opportunities to create things like that, I think that’s definitely going to be a long-term solution.”
The growth of recovery centers reflects a growing workforce under county drug and alcohol commissions.
Krafick started working for the tri-county commission in 2010 as its first recovery specialist. Now, he’s one of 12 who work closely with three area hospitals for their warm handoff program. That growth allowed the commission to offer an on-call program to connect people with treatment 24/7, rather than during business hours only.
In Washington County, Pugh spoke of similar growth as well as outreach in elementary schools, hospitals, and within the criminal justice system.
“When I started at the agency, we had 25 staff — now we’re close to 40,” Pugh said. “As more things continue to happen, we’re trying to adapt to make sure that we’re covering all of our bases.”