Ephrata Cares group still trying to make impact

By on February 28, 2018

Ephrata native Ryan Rettew had been employed as an autistic support teacher for the Eastern Lancaster County School District. She’s mom to 18-month-old Robin and she’s also a recovering addict.

Rettew was one of the folks who attended a meeting of the recently formed “Ephrata Cares” group in City Gate, East Main Street, Ephrata, last week.

“I got clean at age 22,” Rettew said. “I finally was able to ask for the help I needed and got support from my parents who realized something was wrong.”

Leaders from the medical community, law enforcement, and representatives from organizations for drug addiction treatment and prevention met to discuss strategy and make plans to ferret out the worst of the area’s drug addiction and overdose problems, as well as bring healing to those affected by the national scourge.

Addiction can affect anyone, Rettew said, explaining that being judgmental is not part of the solution.

“I was not somebody you would target as an addict,” Rettew said. “My parents and I went to church every week.”

She started using alcohol and marijuana in high school and continued during college, progressing to heroin; a “typical progression,” she said.

“I’m here not only as a recovering addict, but as a mom,” Rettew said. “I want to learn something to prevent her from making the same mistakes.”

Concerned people can make a difference, Rettew believes, adding that focus groups on prevention and education can be particularly valuable.

“It’s something you can hide and it’s hard to diagnose,” Rettew said. “One thing to do is help parents look for warning signs and have more open conversations, more communication.”

The “Ephrata Cares” group has been meeting since last year, the brainchild of Ephrata’s Mayor Ralph Mowen, and consists of professionals and private citizens who have one goal ­ to put an end to overdose deaths and addiction in Ephrata.

This month’s meeting focused on refining some of their plans and programs, as well as planning community events, Mowen said.

“We really want to hit the ground running when it comes to events,” Mowen said. “I’m so enthused about this group — and passionate — and I want to see things get done, to push back some things that have been happening.”

Volunteers divided into two groups; prevention or recovery and treatment, to work on strategies.

One local 14-year-old student told the volunteers that he would know where to get illegal drugs, if he was so inclined.

“They all know,” the ninth grader said. “But they won’t change until somebody gets their first bad experience. A lot of the things we try to do (in school) don’t work, like anti-drug assemblies. You have to get the message across, that you could die.”

Goals of the group include raising awareness and helping people to find community resources.

“We want to bring awareness to the community because it’s a community problem and we need a community solution,” said Sharon Czabafy, a licensed clinical social worker with Wellspan Ephrata Community Hospital.

“We’re also looking for ways to build resilience in youth,” said Christine Glover, community prevention mobilizer with Compass Mark of Lancaster.

Orlando Vega, a prevention specialist with the Council on Chemical Abuse, suggested a closer look be taken at social media, which is so pervasive in young people’s lives.

“Social media can be addictive in itself and it can lead to other things,” Vega said. “That’s something that really needs to be touched on.”

Social media can be an avenue to cyber bullying, to drug access and even to suicides, Vega said.

“So much research is showing that social media addiction causes many problems,” Vega said. “They detach themselves from the world.”

Vega was referring to sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat.

Based in Reading, Vega’s “Council on Chemical Abuse” does free presentations to schools on subjects such as “Teens and Technology,” he said.

Currently working toward a master’s degree, Vega said he is a big proponent of education.

Knowledge is power, he said, and equipping teens with the right education is a start in helping them make better decisions.

“Turning a blind eye to this problem isn’t going to help,” Vega said.

Originally from Chicago, Vega said, growing up, he joined a gang and became involved with drugs.

“I consider myself fortunate to be alive,” Vega said. “I was an addict for 29 years, was in and out of rehab and it wasn’t until age 43 that I had a spiritual awakening.”

Vega had a point in divulging his own history, he said.

“If I can change, change is possible for anyone,” he said.

Barry Heckman, with Pennsylvania Drug and Alcohol Education, said many times, addictions to opioids start after taking prescription drugs, and for young people, that can be because of a sports-related injury.

If a teen realizes they have a problem, Heckman asked if they know where to go for help.

Heckman volunteered to do an information-based website.

“It’s surprising the number of resources that are out there, that people don’t know about,” Vega said. “It should be our goal to get out into the community and let them know we’re here…and we should show them we’re going to be consistent, that we’re here to stay.”

Ben Gunzenhauser Jr. gave out business cards identifying a new anti-drug group he’s starting, called “Love For Hate.”

The L-O-V-E stands for “last overdose victim ever.”

“I’m concerned about the death rate (of overdoses); we’re fourth in the nation and that’s pretty bad,” Gunzenhauser said. “I have a little insight into that because I’ve been an addict for the past 25 years. You have no idea how detrimental this can be to your life.”

He asked if Narcan (nalaxone) could be handed out to addicts on the streets, much the same as is done in California.

“Their death rate is much lower than ours,” Gunzenhauser said of the West Coast state.

As a recovering heroin addict, Gunzenhauser said he knows one truth that applies to all addicts: “If you’re not ready to stop, you’re not going to stop. You have to hit bottom first and then surrender your life to a higher power.”

One Comment

  1. Leslie

    March 12, 2018 at 12:51 pm

    Hi Marylouise! Thank you so much for highlighting the progress we are making as a community through Ephrata Cares. We will be hosting several free public events coming up as soon as April we would love for the whole community to know about! Anyone interested can also find us on facebook at facebook.com/ephratacares
    Leslie, EC Marketing Team Volunteer

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