Slight progress in ongoing opioid crisis offers 'glimmer of hope'

Numbers show a sharp decrease in Montco overdose deaths

Jim Melwert
June 15, 2018 - 1:27 pm
Judge Steven O’Neill said putting someone with opioid addiction behind bars may offer short-term safety to the community, but the person will not get the treatment they need.

Jim Melwert | KYW Newsradio

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MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — Attendees at a conference in Montgomery County on battling opioid addiction heard from people making a difference on the front lines, including some who hope that there might be progress in the fight. 

Leaders from health care, law enforcement and the government gathered for the Regional Overdose Prevention Coalition Conference at Montgomery County Community College Friday to talk about the ongoing crisis. 

Among the speakers, Judge Steven O’Neill — who runs the Montgomery County Drug Treatment Court, a one- to two-year program that encourages treatment as an alternative to prison — said putting someone with opioid addiction behind bars may offer short-term safety to the community, but the person will not get the treatment they need.

"These are good people with a disorder, and we know that now," he said. "We've brought it out of the shadows, we've brought it out of the back alleyways. And we know it’s a disorder. It’s a brain disorder."

So far, O’Neill said 500 have graduated from the drug court.

Montgomery County Commissioner Chair Val Arkoosh said after years of encouraging residents to get prescription painkillers out of their medicine cabinets and working with doctors to cut back on the number of pain pills they prescribe, they've seen a sharp decrease in the number of overdose deaths from prescription pills in the county — 40 were reported in 2016, compared to 18 in 2017.

"Maybe that’s a glimmer of hope that this pipeline is starting to close a little bit," she said.

Montco District Attorney Kevin Steele, who also spoke at the conference, said while they will continue to go after dealers with charges like "drug delivery resulting in death," they understand they can't arrest their way out of this, and his office also puts an emphasis on education.

Arkoosh added she hopes the numbers illustrate that the county's advice is taking effect.