The Wyoming County HOPE coalition was officially formed on Thursday at the EMA building in Tunkhannock.
Elected officials, citizens groups, local assistance programs, and others met last month with the idea of working to prevent drug overdoses and help drug addicts and their families throughout Wyoming County.
Many of those people plus some new faces showed up on Thursday, in which the group voted to name the coalition Wyoming County Hope.
The group is being put together by Human Services Director Michael Donahue. He explained at the beginning of the meeting that the number of people overdosing on drugs is a very serious problem in Wyoming County, and the coalition is seeking ways to reduce those numbers.
Donahue introduced Allison Burrell, a research specialist with the Pennsylvania Opioid Overdose Technical Assistance Center of the University of Pittsburgh. Although she could not physically attend the meeting on Feb. 6, Burrell ran the meeting from Pittsburgh via a conference call and computer link.
In January, Burrell provided information on what is required to set up a coalition to reduce drug overdoses.
One of the things Burrell recommended was the group choose a name, plus a mission statement, to provide focus for its activities.
Following several suggestions on Thursday, the coalition settled on Wyoming County HOPE.
Next, after more discussion and suggestions, coalition members chose ‘Saving and changing lives in Wyoming County’ as its mission statement.
Burrell then provided instruction on ways the group could gather and use information in its efforts to eliminate overdoses and help people affected by drug addiction.
She showed, as a starting point, two data sheets used to collect and correlate information from various sources. The first sheet covered subjects such as ‘overdose death,’ ‘non-fatal overdose,’ ‘EMS,’ ‘first responder,’ ‘9-11 call,’ ‘drug court,’ and ‘probation/parole.’
On the second sheet, specifically geared for Wyoming County, contained sections to record such information as ‘First point of contact,’ and ‘Can this data be shared?’
During the discussion, Wyoming County District Attorney Jeff Mitchell asked about the possibility of including categories for deliberate drug overdoses from suicides or attempted suicides.
Burrell explained that in Pittsburgh, the county coroner provides that information. But it was pointed out by the coalition that the Wyoming County coroner will not list a drug overdose death as a suicide unless 100 percent proof is obtained.
Wyoming County Detective David Ide suggested that the two be included as subcategories on the sheets. Burrell said this and other information could be incorporated as the group sees fit.
At Burrell’s instruction, the coalition assigned certain people to be the contact point for the specific group. EMA coordinator Gene Dziak was appointed to provide information from EMS sources. Dana Booth, clinical director for A Better Today, said he could provide treatment data on a monthly basis. Krystle Kowalczyk, Director of Probation Services, said she could provide information on tracking probation numbers. But she cautioned that it will take about two months to obtain the figures.
Coalition volunteers will be checking with pharmacies to obtain such information as which ones carry Narcan - used to counteract the effects of an opioid overdose - and how much is being issued at each establishment.
Donahue then again took over the proceedings, as members discussed which would be the best day to hold meetings. The coalition eventually agreed it would be best to meet once a month on a Thursday, but has not yet decided which specific date in March.
After the meeting, Donahue explained that no personal information on individuals will be gathered by the coalition.
“We’re looking for aggregate only - numbers,” he explained. “No individual information or personal identification.”
“I think it’s fantastic to be putting this into action,” said Wyoming County Judge Russell Shurtleff, who also attended the meeting. “Due to opioid abuse increase, we need to attack this everywhere on all fronts. The data analysis will help us isolate where the problems are to help us successfully fight this.”