Toomey Addresses Opiate Crisis at Area Forums

FOREST CO., Pa. (EYT) – The opiate crisis was a key topic at the forums hosted by U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) in Forest and Venango Counties on Thursday, August 9.

Senator Toomey met with local leaders and law enforcement in both counties to discuss concerns specific to the area.

In Tionesta, Senator Toomey met with Forest County Commissioners Robert Snyder, Basil Huffman, Norman Wimer, and other community leaders. He informed the group of the state of affairs in Washington, D.C.; then, he gave local leaders the opportunity to highlight issues pertinent to their communities.

Later in the day, Senator Toomey visited the City of Franklin and was joined by Scott Brady who serves as the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

Toomey and Brady met with State Senator Scott Hutchinson; State Rep. R. Lee James; Venango County Commissioners Timothy Brooks, Vincent L. Witherup, and Albert “Chip” Abramovic; Venango County District Attorney Shawn White; and Venango County Coroner Christina Rugh.

Sen. Toomey in Franklin 4

Local law enforcement was represented by Venango County Sheriff Eric Foy; Chief Kevin Anundson, of the City of Franklin Police Department; Chief Robert Wenner, of the Oil City Police Department; Chief Edward Sharp, of the Polk Borough Police Department; Chief Matthew Carlson, of the Sugarcreek Borough Police Department; Chief Dan Siegel, of Emlenton Borough Police Department; and Sgt. James Weaver, of the Franklin-based State Police.

Toomey opened the forum by addressing his awareness of the criticism and the negativity that law enforcement agencies have been faced with over the last few years. He expressed his concern about how it may be affecting the morale of law enforcement officers.

Then, he stated that he wanted to take this opportunity to learn as much as he could about the ongoing opioid crisis in Pennsylvania.

“I’d love to learn more about what the latest developments are in this ongoing battle,” stated Toomey.

Following his opening comments, U.S. Attorney Scott Brady also addressed the group, thanking all of the officials in the room for their efforts and explaining his department’s current focus on two priority areas: violent crime and the opiate crisis.

“Opioids are the biggest focus of our office,” Brady said. “We’re using everything in our arsenal to disrupt supply.”

District Attorney Shawn White agreed that drug trafficking is a top priority law enforcement issue in Venango County. He voiced several issues of concern, including funding issues, concerns over Narcan use, and concerns about “revolving door” recidivism with drug abusers.

“We need something more than just probation and parole,” White said. “Our Venango County Jail is so full right now of users that we are we are stretched to our maximum.”

“Sometimes treatment is wonderful for people, sometimes it’s not.”

Responding to a question from Senator Toomey regarding the rate of overdose deaths in the area, Venango County Coroner Christina Rugh said that although overdose deaths were down in Venango County last year, they have gone back up again this year.

Chief Robert Wenner, of the Oil City Police Department, informed the group that in more than half of the overdose deaths, they found a combination of heroin and methamphetamine from people “speedballing” a combination of the two substances.

Chief Kevin Anundson, of the City of Franklin Police Department, added that in our rural police departments, a major concern with combatting the opiate crisis and law enforcement, in general, is funding for everything from equipment to overtime pay and training.

Several of the law enforcement representatives in attendance reiterated that their departments are currently running short on manpower and they have fewer applicants than previously for job openings.

“If we didn’t all work together, this wouldn’t work at all,” Chief Wenner said.

Other issues discussed included concerns about the continuing overprescription of opiates by some medical professionals and a recent increase of mental health-related cases.

Senator Toomey concluded the forum by acknowledging the concerns specific to the area.

“It’s really helpful for me to continue to develop my understanding of the challenges you face,” he stated.


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