Doylestown attorney Robert Whitley didn’t set out to orchestrate a countywide addiction conversation.
But sitting in the pews at Crossing Community Church in Newtown, he had a wake-up call.
“Four or five weeks in a row, during prayer time, the pastor announced someone either directly in the congregation or related to someone in the congregation had died of a drug overdose,” he said.
“Week after week after week, there’s somebody dying. And we’re a small church.”
Bucks County, like many of its suburban neighbors, has experienced a spike in opioid-related deaths in recent years. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, 185 Bucks residents died of overdoses in 2016, nearly a 50 percent increase over 2015.
What started as an effort to get speakers to address Whitley’s church has snowballed into the “Bucks County Drug Epidemic Blitz,” a series of seven events over 10 days. Events will include training on the use of naloxone to counteract the effects of narcotic overdose and a drive to collect excess medication.
Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub and Diane Rosita, executive director of the Bucks County Drug and Alcohol Commission, and Carol Coolbaugh, leader of GRASP — Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing — are featured speakers.
The program is designed to encourage concerned family members who may be ashamed to seek out information to learn about opioid addiction and treatment.
Stories like Coolbaugh’s underscore the need for accurate information.
“I didn’t understand that it rewired their brain. I really thought when my son first came home from rehab, we were done,” she said, of her son’s 15-year struggle with substance addiction.