Despite different political affiliations, Political Science alumni Rebecca Smith ’16 and Anil (A.J.) Beephan ’16 share similar goals and strategies for fighting the opioid crisis.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 115 people overdose on opioids in the United States each day. Here, Smith and Beephan—who were elected to their community councils in 2017 and 2018, respectively—share their experiences working with local organizations, law enforcement, and other members of their communities to overcome the epidemic.
Rebecca Smith ’16
Councilwoman At-large, Norristown, Pa. Elected November 2017
Upon graduating in 2016, Smith was looking for a way to get involved with her hometown community, so she began attending Norristown Democrats meetings. Shortly after, the party asked her to run for council.
The seat of Montgomery County, the borough of Norristown has 34,510 residents and is located only six miles from Philadelphia.
How is Norristown addressing the opioid and heroin crisis?
There are a couple of different ways: Norristown is involved in a class action lawsuit against some of the prescription drug companies at the local level to get the costs of resources covered, such as Narcan and EMT training. But this is in the early phases. We also have a great police chief who is taking a very human approach to this issue by supporting treatment over incarceration for users. The policy is to get users treatment rather than make them part of the prison cycle.
What are Norristown’s strongest resources in overcoming this epidemic?
From anywhere in Norristown, if you want help, you have access to it. We have service centers that provide mental health and addiction services for anyone who needs it. We also have at least one methadone clinic.
What would you like to see the state and national governments do to combat these issues?
I don’t see Pennsylvania paying a lot of attention to the opioid crisis. They need to consider a policy-driven approach, rather than just talking about it as an issue. Obviously, funding would help to support daily practices and police training. But there’s inconsistency when it comes to resources, too. In some communities, methadone clinics are illegal, or police don’t carry Narcan. There needs to be more consistency.
We also haven’t seen much action from the federal level. They need to be more careful about the drugs people have access to.
A.J. Beephan ’16
Councilman At-large, East Fishkill, N.Y. Elected November 2018
Beephan has served as councilman since March 2018, when he was appointed to fill a vacant position. Prior to his appointment, he was a volunteer firefighter in his community and worked as a legislative assistant in the New York State Senate.
Why is the opioid epidemic an important area to address for you?
I’ve lost eight people that I graduated high school with due to the heroin and opioid epidemic. I want to work with the police chief to support addiction and treatment, while getting opioids off the streets. We’re trying to look at the history—we used past practices from the ’80s and opened up more clinics. We’ve started holding Narcan training sessions. But we’re dealing with a whole different animal now since these drugs are laced with fentanyl.
What is East Fishkill doing to overcome this issue?
We’ve opened a stabilization center to get opioids out of users’ systems while we try to find them a place at recovery centers. We’re meeting with the county to discuss what is going on. East Fishkill has organizations in town that are working in the field of addiction, and we work with these groups to make sure they have the resources they need.
What would you like to see done by the state and federal governments?
The hardest thing about [the opioid crisis] is that the communities don’t always have the resources to deal with it. They can’t afford to have the level of services they need. We need shared resources. It’s more than a community issue, and it needs to be recognized as a national one. The drugs come from across the country. I’d like to see more coordination between police with the state and county governments to develop a task force.
I’d also like to see the state and national governments provide more aid. It doesn’t have to be monetary—it can be training and resources. I’d like to see communities open methadone clinics. It’s currently illegal in New York to have them.