Logo for Lancaster County Joining Forces logo states "Coordinating efforts to reduce deaths due to opioids" in purple and turquoise

Strength comes in numbers. That’s the concept behind Lancaster County Joining Forces, a collection of organizations and individuals working to save lives and help neighbors who are struggling with addiction.

This fall, as part of the fight against the opioid crisis, Joining Forces coordinated efforts among several organizations and coalitions to host a three-part educational series in our local communities. It was offered at the Lancaster Public Library, Alliance Church of Elizabethtown and Quarryville Library. Topics included:

  1. Addiction—A Disease of the Mind and Body
  2. How to Help a Loved One Struggling with Drug Use
  3. How to Talk to Your Children About Drugs

The sessions brought in many Lancaster County community members, all hoping to do their part to help their loved ones and their community cope with the opioid epidemic sweeping the nation.

Addiction is a disease

Jack Sodak, director of outpatient services at Retreat Premiere Addiction Treatment Centers, discussed the science behind addiction, explaining that it is a genetic and biologically based illness and family history with drug abuse makes one more susceptible. His presentation also covered the addiction cycle, warning signs that someone is struggling with drug abuse and common concepts and goals that play into the recovery process, such as shame reduction.

He also stressed that treatment involves changes that are cognitive as well as biological, emotional, social, work related, recreational and spiritual. Treatment doesn’t look the same for everyone. It can come in many forms, such as traditional outpatient treatment, support groups, family support, inpatient detox and rehabilitation, partial hospitalization or intensive outpatient treatment.

Myths surrounding drug abuse

Joel Jakubowski, executive director at Revelations of Freedom Ministries, focused on how to help a loved one struggling with addiction. He reminded the audience that they aren’t alone. In fact, 90% of U.S. citizens are experiencing addiction—either first-hand or through a loved one. He also debunked common myths. People often think that overcoming addiction is a matter of willpower—that you can stop using drugs if you really want to. In reality, addiction alters the brain and should be treated as a disease. Many people also tend to think we can’t force someone into treatment—that they have to want help. However, Jakubowski said treatment doesn’t have to be voluntary to be successful. It’s called an intervention!

He warned the audience not to enable their addicted loved one and protect them from consequences of their actions. A key takeaway was that pain motivates change and hard reality breaks through delusion and denial. When someone rescues a loved one from the painful consequences of irresponsible decisions, they often block or slow down the motivation to change. While it may be tempting in the moment, it’s not helpful on the long road to recovery.

Getting children involved in the conversation

Deb McCoy of Compass Mark shared guidelines for talking about drugs with your kids throughout their childhood. For kids in preschool to age 7, start by explaining when and why medicine is given, and take advantage of teachable moments in movies or on television. As your kids get older, you can have open discussions and work your way toward sharing the risks of drug use. As they reach their teen years, you can set expectations, warn against driving or riding with someone under the influence and discuss legal ramifications. She also stressed the importance of non-judgmental listening, being in tune to your child’s emotions and the importance of knowing both their friends and friends’ parents.  Kids who are around drug use are at a higher risk.

She reminded the audience that children who aren’t involved in these discussions and aren’t well informed are at greater risk for engaging in unsafe behaviors and experimentation. They’re never too young or old to have these discussions.

Together, these presentations gave community members an introduction to addiction and helpful tips for preventing and dealing with addiction. More sessions will be scheduled for the spring in the northern and eastern parts of the county (locations and dates TBD).