Governor Hosts Roundtable to Stem Opioid 'Epidemic'

Published 04.28.2016


Penn College President Davie Jane Gilmour and State Sen. Gene Yaw (second from right) welcome Gov. Tom Wolf to campus Thursday morning. At left is Gary Tennis, secretary of the state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs.The president talks about the startup of Project Bald Eagle (originally the Heroin Task Force) from a funding coalition of Penn College, Lycoming College, Susquehanna Health and Lycoming County.Panelists fill the front of the Thompson Professional Development Center's Mountain Laurel Room.Yaw and Wolf converse after the formal panel discussion.The governor answers questions from a number of media representatives on hand for the event.Community-based and statewide responses to opioid and heroin abuse in Pennsylvania were discussed at a campus roundtable hosted on Thursday by Gov. Tom Wolf and state Sen. Gene Yaw. A diverse panel comprising Project Bald Eagle board members and others – representing state and local government, law enforcement, health care, treatment facilities and the clergy – openly talked about one of the gravest problems ever to hit rural counties. Wolf and Yaw both said the issue goes far beyond geographic boundaries, however, just as it transcends politics, gender and economic standing. No strangers to disagreement, the two earnestly pledged to work collaboratively to stem the alarming tide of addiction and overdose. "This is not a bipartisan concern," the governor stressed. "It's a nonpartisan concern." Yaw began the conversation by pointing out there are nearly as many fatal overdoses in the commonwealth each year than there were Pennsylvanians killed during the entire Vietnam War. Recalling that anti-war protests spilled into the streets and consumed the national consciousness in the '60s, he asked why such a passionate response has not greeted this latest threat. “It’s a medical epidemic,” he added. “We can’t arrest our way out of the problem.” Befitting the venue, one of the suggested weapons is knowledge. "This is not a junkie-on-the-street disease," said college President Davie Jane Gilmour, who chairs the Project Bald Eagle coalition of local forces battling the issue. "We need to address that stigma with education – in our communities, in our churches, everywhere we can reach people. We need to share the true story and acknowledge a different set of perceptions so that people aren't ashamed to say, 'I lost a family member; I lost a friend.'" Thursday's hourlong session was an offshoot of the Yaw-chaired Center for Rural Pennsylvania, which has heard 50 hours of related testimony in nine hearings since 2014. Eyewitness News reporter Cody Butler attended; his piece is scheduled to air at 5:30 p.m. (and on other WBRE newscasts).