NORRISTOWN >> On the steps of the Montgomery County Courthouse, Commissioners Val Arkoosh, Ken Lawrence and Joe Gale stood united Thursday with District Attorney Kevin R. Steele and several other law enforcement and county officials in the fight against the opioid epidemic.

Thursday, Aug. 31, is International Opioid Overdose Awareness Day and officials commemorated the day by paying tribute to the 249 overdose deaths in Montgomery County last year. They also pledged to continue the broad countywide effort to stem the tide of this crisis.

“This is a very important day for our friends and family who are mourning the loss of loved ones,” said Arkoosh, “and all of us together as a community to recognize and acknowledge this terrible epidemic that we are fighting every single day.”

One of the greatest problems surrounding this epidemic is stigma, with people too afraid or refusing to get treatment because of the reputation attached to their substance abuse disorder, Arkoosh said.

“This is where everyone of us can step up in our daily lives and make such an important difference,” she said. “Having substance abuse disorder or an addiction to a substance is a medical condition. It is a chronic disease. It’s a disease that can be treated but the disease has to be acknowledged and treatment has to be sought. That’s where we come in as a community. We need to surround people with strength and hope and love. Lift them up and encourage them to get help.”

Overdoses can affect anyone, Lawrence said, but overdose deaths are preventable.

“I’m very proud of the Montgomery County efforts of the overdose taskforce,” he said, which included law enforcement, counseling and life saving drugs like Naloxone. “You heard there was 249 (deaths). One is too many.”

Gale said he was sure everyone in the crowd knew of someone who suffers from drug addiction or died from a drug overdose.

“Events like this today put a spotlight on an issue that’s so critical for us to come together as one unit to fix and resolve this issue,” he said. “You see it with every age group, every gender, every socioeconomic class that suffers from this horrible issue. And days like this show the families and loved ones that have relatives that suffer with this that we’re there for the, that we support them and it provides that moral support.”

From a law enforcement perspective, Steele said officials are treating overdose deaths as homicide investigations.

“So many of our law enforcement partners here are out there working these cases everyday on the streets,” he said. “We’re trying to do this in a way that we can deter others from bringing this poison into our community.”

Programs like prescription drug take back days, where municipalities collect expired medication out of medicine cabinets, are effective in preventing people from going down the path of drug abuse, he said.

“We stand in solidarity with all of you,” said Steele. “We will continue this fight. You have partners in this fight. We’re going to turn this epidemic and we’re going to turn the tide on it together as one.”

The group of about 100 people then took a lap around the courthouse in solidarity with some holding signs that read “overdose can affect anyone,” “Naloxone saves lives,” “overdose does not discriminate,” “overdose death is preventable. Know what to do” and “someone you know could be affected by overdose.”

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