Monday evening, Lehigh Valley Labor Council, AFSCME District Council 88, and Teamsters Local 773 co-hosted a labor town hall on the opioid epidemic at the new Teamsters Local Hall in Whitehall, PA. Panelists shared their stories and discussed resources available to the community. Representative Dan McNeill along with professionals from county agencies and statewide organizations, as well as community advocates on the opioid and substance abuse, included: Joe Martellucci, Lehigh County Assistant Administrator for Drug and Alcohol; Bill Stauffer, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Recovery Organization–Alliance (PRO-A); Jim Phelan – Drug Counselor at Lehigh County Prison; Doug Rafeld – Express Scripts; and Donna Jacobsen – Leader, Lehigh Valley Parent Group. The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO is proud that central labor councils and our union affiliates are engaging with members on this incredibly important topic affecting communities across the Commonwealth.
“We have to talk about this issue. This disease does not discriminate”, remarked Tom Tosti, Director of AFSCME District Council 88 and President of Bucks County Labor Council. The Labor leaders shared their own perspectives on the effects of the epidemic on their region. Gregg Potter, President of the Lehigh Valley Labor Council, shared his personal experience dealing with a family member battling addiction. Dennis Hower, President of Teamsters Local 773, moderated the panel, closed out the meeting reflecting, “If I’ve learned anything, it is that we need to say something”.
Bill Stauffer, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Recovery Organization – Alliance, discussed his own experience with the addiction and recovery process, as well as three key factors in addiction: genetics, age of onset (age when people start using), and trauma. He recommended the State’s opioid abuse hotline, as a resource for those in need 1-800-662-HELP (4357). “If people get help, they can have a normal life. We need to make sure that people receive the help and services they need to get better.”
A Lehigh Valley representative from Express Scripts, Doug Rafeld shared some of the initiatives the benefit management company is implementing to combat the opioid crisis. According to a DEA study, Rafeld cited, 13 Pennsylvanians die from opioid overdoses every day. He also highlighted the drug take back feature on Pennsylvania’s Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs’ website.
One of the most poignant speakers on Monday’s panel was Donna Jacobsen, of the Lehigh Valley Parent Group, who shared her daughter’s experience with substance abuse disorder and the struggles her family had to face. She speaks to people every day on the issue of substance abuse and support with the hope of helping even one person or family member struggling with addiction. “As a family, we needed to heal together.”
The panel was united in the sentiment that in order to beat back the epidemic of opioid abuse in Pennsylvania and across the country, communities need to come together to dismantle the stigma surrounding addiction. Until we can treat this like the disease that it is, we will not be able to solve the problem.