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New countywide agency aims to prevent substance abuse

Community members discuss ways to promote Worcester Goes Purple, an initiative designed to prevent substance abuse in Worcester County, during a community interest meeting Monday at Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services.

By Rachel Ravina, Staff Writer

(May 9, 2019) Officials, community members and representatives of agencies from across Worcester County discussed ways to prevent substance abuse at a community interest meeting Monday.

“We really want to see all of Worcester County go purple,” said Debbie Smullen, coordinator of the Worcester Goes Purple movement.

About 30 people attended the meeting at Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services in Berlin, including State’s Attorney Kristin Heiser, Sheriff Matt Crisafulli and Worcester Youth’s Executive Director Steve Taylor.

Worcester Goes Purple has gained support from multiple agencies such as Worcester County Public Schools, the Worcester County Health Department and the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office.

“It’s nice to see some real strong support behind what we’re doing,” said Tamara Mills, coordinator of instruction for Worcester County Public Schools.

For Crisafulli, combatting the opioid crisis is a multi-step process.

“We have to get these younger people educated as they are going through schools,” he said. “There has to be prevention and that’s where partnerships come in, and, of course, we have enforcement levels… and we’re really doing a good job with trying to take out some of those big dealers that are pushing this poison here in Worcester County.”

Mills said her department received more than $20,000 in grant funding from Gov. Larry Hogan’s Administration for a number of programs, including training on how to administer Naloxone, which reverses the effects of a heroin overdose.

While the members of the Worcester Goes Purple Committee welcomed suggestions, they emphasized events taking place in National Recovery Month in September.

“We can’t do it just as this committee, so we need the actual community involved and your ideas are going to be invaluable,” Smullen said.

Mills and Smullen had people participate in small groups, out of which came several suggestions such as  having schools wear purple, having purple light bulbs and other “purple” events.

Heiser and Ivy Wells, director of Berlin’s Community and Economic Development department, who were paired up for discussion, found  “one million ideas of how to make Berlin go purple.”

However, Wells brought up a possible obstacle to the purple push: football season.

“Any advice on how to get Pittsburgh Steelers [fans] to wear purple in September?” she asked.

Mills encouraged meeting participants to talk with their friends and families to find other ways to highlight the movement in Worcester County.

“We hope that you’re going to leave here today excited about the potential things that you can do at your agency, at your church, in your neighborhood, and in your home to help support,” Mills said.