On an early Saturday morning in November, the Borough of West Chester was filled with county residents of all ages, who were there for a single purpose: to shine a light – or in this case, splash some brightly colored powder – on the opioid and heroin addiction epidemic that is affecting us all.
The facts are terrifying. According to the Centers for Disease Control/National Center for Health Statistics, there were nearly 44,000 deaths from drug poisoning in 2013, 81 percent of which were accidental overdoses. Just last month, JAMA Pediatrics published information that showed the rate of U.S. children hospitalized for prescription-opioid overdoses more than doubled over a 16-year period ending in 2012, and hospitalizations for heroin overdoses among teens 15-19 nearly tripled over the same period.
The atmosphere in Everhart Park on the morning of the Chester County Color 5K was charged with a range of emotions, which reflected the purpose of the event. For many, it was an occasion to remember and honor loved ones who lost their lives to opioids or heroin, or those who continue to fight the effects of addiction to opioids or heroin every day. For others, it was an opportunity to contribute to awareness-raising and fundraising for a disease that is affecting our community, our state, and our nation. But for everyone, it was a morning that was bright and fun, and that allowed us to come together and show that Chester County will continue to find practical and effective ways to address and combat this epidemic.
The final figures aren’t in yet, but we know that tens of thousands of dollars have been raised by the Chester County Color 5K, which will be used to establish a warm hand-off program in Chester County’s five hospitals. This warm hand-off program will ensure that those who have been physically saved from an overdose can and will be directed from the hospital to the right program to bring physical, mental, and emotional healing through treatment and counseling.
On behalf of my fellow County Commissioners, Terence Farrell and Kathi Cozzone, and Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan, I thank everyone who participated in Chester County’s inaugural Color 5K. From sponsors, education, and counseling organizations and volunteers, to the 770-plus people who ran or walked through West Chester – I congratulate each and every one of you for making the decision to join in the collaborative work that Chester County is undertaking to address the drug abuse and overdose problem. We will continue to work at it until the problem is eliminated.