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In just the past year alone, the opioid epidemic has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Americans. The death toll now rivals the total number of US casualties from the Vietnam War.

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Gov. Tom Wolf’s declaration that the ongoing opioid epidemic amounts to a statewide disaster does not overstate the crisis.

Both across Pennsylvania and locally, opioid-related deaths continue to rise. York County saw a nearly 50 percent increase in heroin/fentanyl fatalities last year with 115. Another two dozen-plus opioid-related deaths are suspected.

More: Pennsylvania issues disaster declaration over opioid crisis

These are heartbreaking numbers. And yet, there are other numbers that have not received as much attention: The hundreds of Pennsylvanians regionally and thousands statewide who are attempting the difficult and often painful return to normalcy.

More: Heroin-related deaths in York County spike in 2017 despite reduction efforts

Theirs is no easy path. The grip of addiction is severe and a single false step can undo months, even years of hard work. Success often requires working a 12-step or other recovery program, and includes finding new ways of looking at — and engaging in — your life.

Fortunately, there are numerous resources, support groups, medical treatments and community organizations that can provide much-needed support. Unfortunately, that foundation does not always underlie the life of those in recovery. There are times, many times, when the road to recovery is trod alone.

It is at these times that we would gently point out the variety of alternative avenues aside from those leading back to risky behavior. We do this not naively, nor facetiously, but as an earnest reminder of the many joys of sober life; of the many interests that can fill time once wasted in the twilight of drug-induced incapacity.

Working a recovery program is often vital. And finding new ways to have sober fun can be crucial, particularly for young people. Many recovery programs offer a community of those in recover to explore new ways of filling empty time that can be so dangerous.

When alone, if the hours seem challenging to fill, it may help to take a look at those simple things in life that often bring joy.

Take something as simple as music. Whatever kind you like — from rap to reggae, jazz to classical, gospel to opera – there’s more of it out there; more than you’ll ever have time to listen to. Search it out. Find new favorites. Hear what you’ve missed.

Everyone loves to eat. We live in an age of easily obtained recipes; they’re as near as the computer keyboard at your local library. Healthy meals need not be pricey. And preparing meals can be therapeutic. Cook, bake - create a salad. You’ll be feeding yourself and your loved ones in more ways than one.

Visit the other end of the garden-to-table dynamic and get your hands in the dirt. Gardening — whether plants, crops, herbs or flowers — is healthy work for body and mind. If you don’t have a yard of your own, inquire about one of York’s several community gardens.

Don’t limit your outdoor activities to the garden. York County is a great place to spend time outside at any time of year. When’s the last time you took a few steps at the Heritage Rail Trail County Park? It is home to just one of several greenways and trails countywide.

Biking, boating, hiking, jogging — there’s no end to healthy ways to enjoy the outdoors— and they’re called the great outdoors for a reason.

Rather spend time indoors? Get lost in a good book. Again, whatever your interests there is no end of writing on or in the subject. Mysteries, science fiction, action-adventure, classic literature, poetry, detective stories, satires, fantasies, historical fiction, ghost stories — and these are just the fiction category. Memoirs, biographies, criticism, the history of any subject you can name, self-help, current events, political analysis, sports, essays, religion, travel, photography, art, instructional — read deeply in an area that interest you, or pursue a new line of study. All you need is a library card.

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This brief list barely scratches the surface. And it consists of pursuits than can be explored for little money or for free.

But there is no end to the buffet life offers: movies, exercise, professional sports, amateur rec leagues, yoga, photography, writing and keeping a journal — so many ways to exercise the brain while exorcising the demons of addiction.

And we’ve saved the most vital for last: volunteering. York and its surrounding environs lack for neither need nor opportunity when it comes to neighbors helping neighbors. This time, let your compassion be your guide. The young, the old, the poor, the homeless, the hungry, animals without homes, veterans, those with police records, those with physical limitations and, yes, those with substance-abuse issues: they are among the local populations that rely on local support.

Get involved. Fill your time by filling their hearts. Stay too busy to fall victim to idle backsliding. Help yourself by helping others who need assistance.

We know; it’s easy to say. And we know it’s hard to do. But we know your life depends on it.

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