EDITORIAL: Treat addiction as a disease

York Dispatch

Drug addiction is a disease.

In this file photo, family and friends of heroin overdose victims take part in a rally on Continental Square in York to bring awareness to "Don't run, call 911," in November 2015. John A. Pavoncello photo.

It's easy to blame the person with this disorder, to say they need to have more willpower, they need to conquer their cravings, they need to fight their demons with a clear head and steady eye.

For at least 48 people in York County this year, that didn't work. Those 48, and possibly another eight, have died from heroin overdoses.

The Center for Rural Pennsylvania this week released a report on the heroin epidemic raging through the state, recommending that a holistic approach is the best way to combat this debilitating problem.

The center suggested combining a strong prevention program with tougher sentencing for drug dealers and medical treatment for users.

Report urges broad approach to Pa. heroin epidemic

Grandmother picks up the pieces after family decimated by heroin

The days are long past when the recommended way to deal with drug users was to throw them in jail. Although many do end up in the criminal justice system, the more compassionate view of sending them for treatment rather than punishment is taking the forefront.

To that end, the report suggests dual treatments using methadone and buprenorphine. "The combining of the two treatments enables patients to stop using opioids and return to a more stable and productive life," the report said.

For some, that will still not be enough to overcome the need for heroin.

The new last resort treatment, naloxone, has been used more than 80 times by first responders in York County since last spring, when a program to get Narcan into the hands of the police officers, who are often the first to arrive at the scene of an overdose, came to York County. Some addicts have been saved by Narcan more than once, according to York County Coroner Pam Gay.

Those are the people who need the most help and who would benefit the most from treatment.

The most important aspect of treatment for drug addiction remains admitting that you have a problem and asking for help.

When drug addicts ask, the help needs to be available. Treatment centers have long waiting lists, and even those who get in can fail to stay clean.

Once the initial treatment is over, the community needs to remember that the person remains vulnerable, as with any chronic disease.

"If someone has diabetes, you don't send them away for 30 or 60 days and expect them to come back fixed," said state Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming County, chairman of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania. "Drug addiction is the same kind of problem. It's a lifelong problem, and it's a community problem."