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Bald Eagle Project: Stop the pain now

By Staff | Oct 14, 2016

BARB BARRETT/The Luminary Steve Murphy Shope director of Project Bald Eagle, a coalition formed in Lycoming County to fight the opioid epidemic, holds up a vial of Narcan spray which is used to counteract an overdose. He spoke to the public and the student body at Hughesville High School on Wednesday, October 5.

HUGHESVILLE – Finding ways to treat pain has been society’s dilemma for the ongoing opioid epidemic that surrounds our country to unspeakable proportions. Understanding its effects and what has brought us to this point is the focus of Project Bald Eagle, a coalition formed to “stem the tide” of its influence on all walks of life.

Director Steve Murphy Shope addressed the epidemic last Wednesday at Hughesville High School. He spoke earlier in the day to the student body and later at 7 p.m. he explained the legality and illegal aspects of the disease to the public in the auditorium.

Shope was introduced by Superintendent, Michael Pawlik who serves on the board for Bald Eagle Project that was implemented a few years ago and partners with other community organizations to work on solutions to curb its intensity.

“Forget every pre-conceived notion you have about heroin and addiction,” announced Pawlik. “Many don’t want to admit there’s a problem,” he added.

Both Shope and Pawlik agree that the problem stems from painkillers. “The epidemic comes from the origins of these drugs,” explained Shope.

BARB BARRETT/The Luminary The Bald Eagle Project is a non-profit organization that was established to stem the tide of the heroin epidemic in Lycoming County through education, prevention, treatment, enforcement and data monitoring. They are also providing free training for administering Naloxone, a drug that will revive someone from an overdose.

Bald Eagle Project’s goal is to educate and inform. Shope said, “Education can be a major solution to fix this thing.”

His presentation touched on the history of opium, derived from the poppy plant, and its evolution into both legal and illegal opioids. He gave some alarming statistics. 4 out 5 heroin users started with prescription painkillers, and 67% of those who abused a prescription drug got it from a friend or family member.

Ten people every day die in Pennsylvania from an overdose.

Most people are unaware of the effects and level of vulnerability that these drugs have on the human body. “This epidemic was propagated by ignorance. The rise in heroin in crime is merely a symptom of the opioid epidemic.”

Common drugs that are often prescribed for pain are OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, Fentanyl and Dilaudid. These are all synthetic drugs made from natural opioids – morphine, codeine and heroin which come from the poppy plant. Opium was first used to treat respiratory illnesses and in 1803 its pain relieving qualities were discovered. Morphine is widely used today as much as it was back then on battlefields since the Civil War. Many war veterans have become addicted. In 1920, it became an illicit drug.

“We need to teach people the path between prescription opioids and abusing heroin,” Shope told everyone. Hydrocodone products are the most commonly prescribed for a variety of painful conditions, including dental and injury-related pain.

The US consumes 80% of the world’s supply of opioids. Heroin is very affordable, only 7 dollars a bag vs. 40 dollars or more for a pill.

A 60-day supply of a prescription opioid painkiller, such as vicodin or percocet, equals a 60 percent chance of opioid addiction, Shope added. And, once the opioid receptors in one’s brain have experienced opioid medications, they become irreparably damaged. He compared the change to that of turning an old, country road into a major highway system.

“This is how close you are. It’s that easy,” he said. “And, once you turn those receptors into a super, super highway, you never get that old country road back.”

If an opioid receptor becomes damaged, it is for life, and soon turns into a chronic disease that has to be managed for the rest of that person’s life. Addiction is a disease, not a crime. “This is not a matter of opinion. It is a disease!”

Withdrawal symptoms can start almost minutes from taking it. These symptoms can be very painful according to Shope. One described it “like fire in your bones.”

Addictions have increased 570% in the last 20 years. Deaths from drug overdoses have passed those from motor vehicle accidents. Heroin and opioids are found in most toxicology reports. “There are more DUI’s on opioids than alcohol,” Shope said.

Since July 10 of 2016 there have been 48 deaths from an overdose here in Pennsylvania. Few counties have taken the leadership as much as Lycoming County has. A heroin task force with purposely chosen people along with the Center for Rural Pennsylvania chaired by Senator Eugene Yaw, has had a major influence to make positive changes in the treatment of pain.

“It is complex,” continued Shope. “It affects every segment of our society from law enforcement to health agencies.”

Some of the efforts from the coalition include school aged members who are developing campaigns to send messages to their peers to join the fight for anti-drugs.

Narcan nasal spray or naloxone is being used to reverse the effects of an overdose or someone who is unresponsive. Shope suggested that if any family member is under the influence of opioids to have this on hand in case of respiratory arrest. “It works almost immediately,” Shope remarked. Training for this is available online or through the coalition. It is also covered by most insurances.

Other drugs are being tested to counteract and stabilize the body long enough to rebuild lives reported CleanSlate, a medical organization established to “lead the fight.” Mostly in the northeast of the country, it was founded in 2009 and consists of a network of physicians and treatment centers to provide medication and therapies for those suffering from addictions. “It is based on medicine and science led by doctors,” said Kassy Shenberger-Barth, a care coordinator who spoke on the battle that keeps elevating because doctors and dentists are still prescribing more than they need to.

Katie Hugo from Loyalsock and a certified recovery specialist spoke about recovery and its availability. Working with Crossroads Counseling in Williamsport she explained the valuable services and additional support treatment to bridge the gap. “Treatment is possible,” she said. “Don’t hide behind this stigma.”

At closing, Pawlik reminded the audience to be educated and to ask questions when going to the doctor. “Don’t be afraid to ask if there is something else you can take,” he added.

Dispose of drugs properly. Every law enforcement has a drop-off box for return medications.

Unfortunately, the drug companies aren’t doing much to curb this problem and have contributed immensely to elevate the problem. Drug companies spent more than $880 million on lobbying and political contributions at the state and federal level over the past decade according to a report released by the Center for Public Integrity.