Forum discusses opioid epidemic
HARPERS FERRY – In an effort to get people talking and sharing ideas, a Harpers Ferry group, In Pursuit of Happiness, hosted a deliberative dialogue open forum on the issue of the opioid epidemic facing the community, the state and the nation.
This open public forum was held at Camp Hill-Wesley United Methodist Church in Harpers Ferry. As a member of the Happiness group, the church’s pastor and State Senator John Unger helped organize the gathering that drew in more than 70 people.
“It’s an issue across the board,” said Marti Steiner, who is also a member of the group leading the forum, said of the motivation to tackle the opioid crisis as a topic for the project’s first public forum. “The idea is not to bring in a bunch of experts. We encourage anybody to attend. The problems we have as far as the opioid epidemic is across the board.”
The forum served as a opportunity for many in the community to come together and share thoughts and ideas while following a general guideline provided by The Kettering Foundation, of Dayton, Ohio. The Foundation is a nonpartisan research institute that studies the public’s role in democracy and worked with the Happiness Group to help kick off their first deliberative dialogue session.
Shepherd University provided trained facilitators from their nursing and psychology student body to facilitate as the attendees broke out into small groups to share thoughts on “What should we do about the opioid epidemic?” A handout, just released last week for the purpose of this type of dialogue, was used as a guide to have attendees stay focused on the issue and determine which of three options presented may be the first to address with regard to the opioid issue.
Option one focused on treatment for all and encouraged discussed on actions such as expanding the number of treatment centers, how to pay for treatment (i.e., via Medicaid or other health insurance), how drug companies should create less addictive painkillers, etc.
Option two focused on enforcement including actions regarding law enforcement and sentencing for drug dealers, drug testing in various arenas, and making stricter laws.
Option three focused on individual choice with some action statements focusing on community-based centers where people can inject drugs safely, providing amnesty from prosecution to those who seek treatment, etc.
Six break-out groups had individuals of all backgrounds including addicts, businesspersons, some local politicians and family and friends of those hurt by the epidemic talking around the table about each of these “options” and their drawbacks.
Discussion points focused on everything from the need for treatment centers, which was a consensus opinion, to the possibility of making all drugs legal, to how to deal with pharmaceutical companies producing mass amounts of addictive drugs.
After each group met to discuss the option topics, and several other more broad scopes of the epidemic theme, the entire group reconvened and shared key points of the small group discussions.
Key points to come out of nearly all group discussions were the need to provide treatment options to those who are addicted. That addiction, said most, is not criminal, but a health issue. However, it was also prevalent that criminal liability does exist and should be foisted onto the drug companies as well as the drug dealers.
Education on the issue of drug use and addiction is key and should begin at a young age as the damages and death toll from opioid use reaches into all ages.
Unger, at the conclusion of the evening’s discussion, said that the goal of the evening was to develop relationships between different individuals.
“The hope is to raise awareness and get people thinking,” Unger said. “The goal is necessarily to reach an agreement on a course of action tonight.”
These dialogue sessions, which the Happiness Project hopes to continue with other topics of relevance to the community.
Unger also shared that those interested in learning how to host these types of dialogues can receive training. Information can be garnered by contacting Unger at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Today was the first step,” Unger said. “We are on the path to recovering the community.”