As a 10-day series of events addressing the opioid epidemic nears its close, parents and community members gathered at Central Bucks East High School to learn about how kids in their area may be exposed to illegal drugs.
The weeklong blitz came about as Bucks County officials confront a 50 percent increase in overdose rates from 2015 to last year.
Police, prevention specialists, school officials and even the county district attorney took part in the town hall meeting at the high school to let parents know about warning signs that their child may be using.
They mentioned resources, including the Bucks County Drug and Alcohol Commission, where parents can call for coaching if they think their child is using drugs. Speakers talked about state and local Good Samaritan laws, that make it easier to report substance abuse.
And several highlighted marijuana as a “gateway” drug to opioids and other more powerful drugs.
Speaker Jackie Gallagher Petzel, who said she believes her son’s addiction to opioids may have started in high school, said she would have welcomed a talk like this back then.
Things were different then, she said.
“I don’t think they did want to talk about it. This is Central Bucks County. This is a lovely area. It doesn’t happen here,” she said, adding that what she sees as a change in attitudes from denial to engagement has her “thrilled.”
Had she been at this event years ago, Gallagher Petzel said, she would have gone home and torn her son’s room apart. But she found the evening’s occasional focus on marijuana less compelling.
“It’s going to be legalized, let’s let it go,” she said.
As a parent who watched her son struggle with and eventually die from his addiction, Gallagher Petzel said there’s no easy solution.
“I wish I had the answers. The only thing that I can come up with is we need to address the issue earlier,” she said. “Parents need to be open earlier.”
School Principal Abe Lucabaugh said he estimates that six graduates of the school have died by overdose in the last 10 years. Others have been to rehab and are in recovery, he said.
During Gallagher Petzel’s talk at the town hall, she mentioned that many kids come in contact with opioids for the first time after having their wisdom teeth removed.
When asked whether that milestone could be an opportunity to talk with parents and students about opioids and addiction, Lucabaugh said, “We’ve never had direct conversations about that, but I think we do have a responsibility to educate our students and our community about how in a context like that it can lead to addiction.”
He went on to say that he wants to be careful that the school doesn’t stigmatize kids. “We need to make sure,” he added, “that we’re approaching this from the vantage point of care and concern for them.”
The last event of the blitz, a countywide drug take back day will be held Saturday at several locations around the county.