Coalition holds opioid education forum in Reading

READING, Pa. - On the heels of President Trump calling the opioid problem a public health crisis, an already-planned forum was held in Reading on Thursday evening.

The Northeast Community Springboard Coalition usually educates students, parents and teachers about alcohol and marijuana use, but due to the current climate, things have changed.

"It also includes other drugs because of the current heroin threat," said program coordinator Letty Vazquez.

The seemingly never-ending threat prompted the coalition, along with Project PEACE and the National Guard, to host a meeting at Reading's Northeast Middle School.

"We have knowledge that people are using other people's prescriptions that we have had overdoses," Vazquez explained.

According to the Pennsylvania Youth Survey, the state's narcotic prescription drug use is higher than the national rate for eighth and 12th graders.

"Well, it is very important to us to take that information to the parents," Vazquez said. "The heroin overdoses have been increasing, especially in the suburbs, so we've involved the city and the suburbs."

Mirla Otero-Garcia is an evaluator for the coalition, reviewing the opioid numbers on a daily basis.

"We can look at numbers and change our whole aspect of what we do," Otero-Garcia said.

They're not just numbers to Otero-Garcia. They're something more.

"I had a friend that her boyfriend died of an overdose, 21, and started the same as many people that they start with pain medication and then they get addicted and dependent on that," Otero-Garcia said.

These organizations ultimately see education as the key to fighting the epidemic.

"My hope is that a lot of people come out to get educated and to educate the parents, the students and the schools," Vazquez said.

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