Addressing the stigma around addiction is one of the many goals of Wyoming County’s Hope Coalition.
At last Thursday’s (May 9) meeting, its members did just that.
“I think what you’ve seen in the last couple weeks is if you thought the stigma was dead, you were very incorrect,” said Michael Donahue, one of the coalition’s leaders.
Donahue was referring to articles, letters to the editor and a guest column by Frank Oliver recently printed in The Wyoming County Press Examiner.
Sandy Vieczorek, a treatment advocate who lost her son to addiction, gave her interpretation of the column, which criticized the coalition’s strategic plan among other things.
“It says that treatment in Wyoming County isn’t worth doing, pretty much,” she said. “That if we have treatment in Wyoming County, it’s going to turn us into Pittsburgh and taxes are going to go up and nobody is going to be able to get a job.”
“It makes a lot of false correlations and some complete misstatements,” she added.
There are local people in recovery (drug treatment court graduates and others), Vieczorek said, who have successfully found full-time employment or opened their own businesses.
“Maybe they work at a low paying job while they’re going to college so they could get a better paying job, and they will because they’re determined to better themselves and have a life,” she said. “They are an asset to our community.”
People in recovery will not harm anyone, make taxes increase or impact people’s homes or businesses, she added, noting that they contribute to the “social fabric and economic well-being of the community” and go about their daily lives working, attending school and raising families just like everyone else.
“It is well worth treating these people,” she concluded.
Hope Coalition member Celeste Kranick said she feels like the community is pushing back against efforts, using a lack of participation in awareness-related events as an example.
“They don’t come out. It’s like they’re numb. They don’t care,” Kranick said. “I feel that this is a sign that we’re actually gaining something.”
There’s a fear that letting outside communities or tourists know what’s happening in Wyoming County could negatively impact commerce and revenue, she noted.
“It’s all about the bucks,” she said.
Donahue also responded to a claim one reader made: “I don’t believe addiction is a disease.”
“There are so many medical studies. There are so many. It was identified as a disease before I was born, and folks, I’m old,” he said.
After breaking off into subcommittees, Hope Coalition members went over their upcoming plans.
The prevention subcommittee’s poster contest with the Tunkhannock Area STEM Academy is nearly wrapped up. The winning poster will be displayed on a billboard this summer.
In the treatment subcommittee was discussion of dispelling the myth that Wyoming County does not have a warm handoff program. At Tyler Memorial Hospital, individuals admitted for overdoses have 24/7 access to such a program.
The Hope Coalition, which welcomes new members, will next meet on July 11 at 9:30 a.m. in the Dietrich Theater.