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60 attend first opioid addiction meeting

By Dan Miller danmiller@pressandjournal.com
Posted 4/12/17

There were hugs and tears, as people who knew each other just through Facebook saw and touched each other in person for the first time.

About 60 in all, they were drawn to Londonderry Fire …

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60 attend first opioid addiction meeting

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There were hugs and tears, as people who knew each other just through Facebook saw and touched each other in person for the first time.

About 60 in all, they were drawn to Londonderry Fire Hall on a warm April night, connected by the heroin and opioid epidemic that is turning lives and families upside down in and around Middletown, as it is seemingly everywhere these days.

They didn’t come here by accident. These kinds of events seldom happen that way. Someone has to make it happen.

In this case the someone is Rhonda Spencer and Donna Kreider, grandmothers who three short weeks ago launched a grassroots, social-media driven campaign aimed at uniting the Middletown community to fight the scourge killing its kids.

“We’d like to take grandmothers off our title officially now,” joked Spencer in introducing herself and Kreider, after the first public gathering of Fighting Addiction Middletown Style — FAMS — got underway with a moment of silence to those whose lives have been lost to heroin.

A number of guest speakers followed, many of whom spoke of their own personal connection to the epidemic.

Cheryl Dondero, director of Dauphin County Drug and Alcohol Services, started doing drugs in the summer between her 11th and 12th grades as a student at Middletown Area High School.

She very quickly became addicted to multiple drugs. She overdosed multiple times, committed felonies and was arrested, and struggled with her own addiction until she was 30 years old.

“Every time along the way, someone would say ‘I think you can do it,’” Dondero said. But it wasn’t until she gave into the people who kept telling her that she had to get long-term treatment — away from the influences of family and friends — that Dondero kicked her addiction.

Now, she’s running the very same agency that a Dauphin County judge once referred Dondero to as a convicted felon.

The heroin epidemic has run a parallel course with the over-prescribing of prescription drugs, Dondero told the new group.

Addiction is a disease that affects one in four families, Dondero said — yet most doctors aren’t educated about it, although she is seeing that starting to change.

The heroin and opioid crisis “crosses every single boundary,” transcending race, income and culture. Once out of sight and out of mind, heroin and opioid addiction “has “crossed into middle-class suburbia — now it’s an epidemic,” Dondero said.

This group is among the best things a community can do, to get past the addiction stigma and give people the information and resources to get themselves and their loved ones into treatment and recovery.

“This meeting is the correct kind of outrage,” Dondero said.

Interim Middletown Police Chief George Mouchette spoke briefly, joined by veteran Patrolman Mark Laudenslager and Tyler Zehring, who started with the department part-time in July 2015 and became full-time in 2016.

Zehring told of his own cousin dying from a heroin overdose about a year ago.

The epidemic isn’t new to Mouchette, a retired New York City police detective who grew up in a Brooklyn neighborhood being ravaged by heroin in the 1970s and later, crack cocaine.

“All the people I grew up with were either dead or in jail or addicted,” said Mouchette, now 47. “A big reason why I joined the police department was I saw how drugs devastated my community and I was intent upon doing something about it. It was very personal to me because these were people that I grew up with and played with from the time I was 5 years old.”

Asked what made him different, Mouchette said he was sent to a private school where “I was around other kids that were doing something positive with their lives.” His family couldn’t afford to move, because of the money needed to send Mouchette to the private school.

Mouchette says anything that happens in New York can happen in Middletown, but admits to being “quite surprised” at the extent of the drug problem here since he started in January.

“In certain places in town you have three or four drug houses on one block,” Mouchette said. “You will be seeing a lot of drug arrests” now that it is getting warm, but in the same breath the chief echoed what Dondero said earlier — “You can’t arrest your way out of this.”

Borough police have been carrying Naloxone less than a year and have already saved the lives of four people in Middletown by using the drug to reverse the effects of a heroin or opioid overdose, Mouchette added.

Following the speakers, Spencer emphasized that what the group is to become, is up to the group.

“This is your group,” she said of FAMS.

Afterward, she said she was pleased with the outcome of this first session.

“I think the meeting was successful. I think a lot of points were brought out. I’m looking forward to seeing many more” at the next FAMS meeting to be held in the Londonderry Fire Hall on April 26.

The best way for people to get in touch with FAMS is to contact Spencer and Kreider through their own personal Facebook pages. FAMS has a Facebook page, but that is being kept private, Spencer said.

In addition, Dauphin County plans to hold a Middletown area town hall meeting on the heroin and opioid crisis sometime in May, Dondero said. The meeting will be held in one of the schools, and the county is working with the school district to arrange a date.

The town hall meeting is the result of the grassroots effort that Spencer and Kreider started in late March.

“We asked for” the county to do the town hall meeting, Kreider said. “Middletown needs it.”

RESOURCES

Dauphin County Drug and Alcohol Services:, 1100 S. Cameron St., Harrisburg. 24/7 hot line at 717-635-2254. www.dauphincounty.org/government/Human-Services/drug-and-alcohol-services/Pages/default.aspx

Lancaster Drug and Alcohol Commission: web.co.lancaster.pa.us/140/Drug-Alcohol-Commission. 717-299-8023

PA Statewide Hotline for Treatment: 800-662-HELP. www.pa.gov/opioids

Narcan Availability and Training: www.ddap.pa.gov/overdose/Pages/Naloxone_FAQ.aspx

unwanted or unused medications: To find locations to return unwanted or unused medications in a local drug takeback box: https://apps.ddap.pa.gov/GetHelpNow/PillDrop.aspx

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