Town Hall with WABC-TV Features Michael Litterer, RWJBarnabas Health Institute for Prevention and Recovery

The nation’s opioid crisis was recently the topic of an Eyewitness News virtual town hall entitled, “The Tri-State Opioid Epidemic: Struggles and Solutions.” WABC-TV’s Mike Marza moderated the program which featured panelists from the tri-state area including Michael Litterer, Director of Prevention and Recovery at the RWJBarnabas Health Institute for Prevention and Recovery. The hour-long program highlighted real life stories of opioid addiction, focused on the effects that this crisis is having on communities in the Tri-State area, and discussed steps that can be taken to help.

Litterer emphasized that the number one problem and most important topic to address is stigma surrounding substance abuse disorder and addiction which interrupts one’s ability to reach out for help. “People don’t know where to turn and are worried about being judged,” he said, noting that substance abuse and addiction are chronic medical diseases, similar in many ways to diabetes. “We need to make every effort to reduce stigma,” he emphasized, underscoring the need for a supportive network, and pointing to the success of IFPR’s Peer Recovery Specialists, a program utilizing individuals in recovery themselves, which helps to normalize the conversation around addiction.

Litterer also remarked how people are unaware that street drugs, such as heroin, are increasingly laced with fentanyl, sometimes in a deadly dose. He pointed out that while opioids can serve an important purpose in medical care, its use can quickly spiral out of control without careful supervision. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioids are involved in over 70.6 percent of all drug overdose deaths. Panelists agreed that the onset of the Covid pandemic has intensified the challenge due to the increased isolation and more limited access to resources.

Watch the town hall here.