Penn College blog

Author/Journalist to Unravel Opioid Epidemic

Davie Jane Gilmour Community, Education, From the President Leave a comment March 17, 2017

Author/Journalist to Unravel Opioid Epidemic

The statistics are sobering. Pennsylvania ranked sixth in drug-related death rates in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Pennsylvania is one of 36 states nationwide where drug abuse is now the leading cause of injury deaths, eclipsing even those caused by motor vehicle accidents, based on data from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The CDC also reports that opioids – those received by prescription and those obtained illicitly ­– are the principal source of drug overdose deaths. “Opioids were involved in 33,091 deaths in 2015, and opioid overdoses have quadrupled since 1999,” the CDC says.

Another CDC report noted that health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for painkillers in 2012, enough for every adult in the United States to have a bottle of prescription painkillers. Other data reveal that more than three-quarters of heroin addicts trace their addiction to prescription opioids.

The data compiled for 2016 will almost certainly show the opioid epidemic worsened last year. Do a Google News search for “opioid deaths” or “opioid epidemic” and prepare to be astounded. It’s impossible to scan newspapers and other online media any day of the week and not find multiple stories about how the epidemic has touched virtually every community in America. Who can forget the compelling police photo of the Ohio parents slumped in the front seat of their vehicle, both unconscious from heroin overdoses, as their 4-year-old son sat helpless in the back seat?

Perhaps no one has distilled and illuminated the circumstances creating this public health crisis better than journalist and author Sam Quinones, who will present a program on his award-winning narrative nonfiction book “Dreamland, The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic” on Monday, April 3, at 7 p.m. in the Community Arts Center, Williamsport. The presentation, sponsored by the Clear Focus Affinity Community at Lycoming College, Penn College, UPMC Susquehanna, Project Bald Eagle and state Sen. Gene Yaw’s office, is free and open to the public.

I urge everyone to attend and learn more about this epidemic, which is riddled with misconceptions. A master storyteller and dogged reporter, Quinones will show how the unconstrained prescribing of pain medications in the 1990s, coupled with the production/distribution of cheap and potent black tar heroin from Mexico, fueled the crisis, which is being dealt with daily by law enforcement, public health agencies, health care professionals, educators and others.

The education part of the heroin/opioid story is particularly important to me. I count among my community affiliations service as the chair of Project Bald Eagle, a nonprofit organization leading coalition efforts to stem the tide of the heroin epidemic through education, prevention, treatment, enforcement and data monitoring. Education is key, for this epidemic is not limited to the types of individuals many people would associate with illicit drug use.

Addiction doesn’t discriminate by class, race or gender, and it is not a problem confined to urban areas. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, 12 rural Pennsylvania counties were among the top 20 with the highest rate of drug-related deaths in 2015.

Serving with me on the Project Bald Eagle Board is Sen. Yaw, who also chairs The Center for Rural Pennsylvania, as well the Penn College Board of Directors. The center conducted statewide hearings to gather information on heroin and opioid use and abuse in communities, producing a comprehensive report on the heroin epidemic in Pennsylvania. The center focuses on educating policymakers, informing the public and enhancing current policies related to heroin and opioid addiction treatment. This effort played a seminal role in the Legislature enacting a series of laws late last year addressing how opioids are prescribed and monitored.

At Penn College, I’m proud to say our campus police force was one of the first regionally to be trained and authorized in the use of Naloxone, a medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration to prevent overdose by opioids like heroin, morphine and oxycodone. Naloxone saves lives by blocking opioid receptor sites, reversing an overdose’s toxic effects.

We also provide educational and prevention programs to the college community throughout the academic year, and resources are available for faculty and staff to make referrals when students are exhibiting signs of problems caused by drugs and alcohol or other issues.

Quinones’ compelling book shows how one community was able to pull itself out of economic disaster fueled by drugs. Positive outcomes can be achieved in our communities, too, if more light is shed on the problem. The increase of addiction and drug-related deaths has prompted citizens on all sides of the issue to come together to find ways to prevent abuse and to ensure that help is available for those who need it.

Change won’t come instantly; it took a long time for this epidemic to unfold, and it will take a long time to manage it effectively. But we’re on the right track.

I encourage everyone to learn more about this communitywide ­problem by attending Sam Quinones’ presentation on April 3.

Event details

Sam Quinones: Journalist & Author

Monday , April , 3, 2017 at 7:00 p.m.

Community Arts Center

Williamsport, PA

Free event open to the public



Post by:

Davie Jane Gilmour

Dr. Davie Jane Gilmour is the President of the Pennsylvania College of Technology. Penn College, a special mission campus of the Pennsylvania State University, is a national leader in applied technology education.

Login with:

Or Login below:

Penn College welcomes comments that are on topic and civil. Read our full disclaimer.

Related Stories

Well-rounded global experience

By Cayla Erisman, April 18, 2019

My initial global experience through Penn College affected my life in many positive ways. This was my first opportunity to travel to another country, and I never expected or planned to travel abroad until my college education was complete. As an architecture student, I have been studying buildings and cities across the globe for many years. When I heard about the European Sustainable Building, Historical Architecture and Art (ACH270) course that included a trip to London and Paris in May of 2018, I was immediately interested in the opportunity to study abroad. My interest transformed to reality when we landed in London and instantly started our educational journey. As we navigated our way through London and Paris, I started to recognize buildings and various structures like the Tower Bridge, the Gherkin, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the Eiffel Tower, to name a few, all of which I learned about either in high school or at Penn College.

It was truly an amazing feeling seeing such extraordinary architecture and learning more about the history of the structures by physically being there.

In addition to bringing my textbooks to life, being in another country for almost two weeks taught me about the lifestyles and cultures of the cities we visited. We went to a lookout on the 72nd floor of The Shard, in London. The views were breathtaking, and standing that high above the ground was absolutely thrilling! I feel that appreciating diversity is one of the most beneficial aspects from my global experience.

My newfound awareness of culture is going to help me both personally and professionally.

After my experience in London and Paris, I’m confident in my ability to visit any city and successfully navigate my way, since I had the opportunity to lead a small group to various attractions in London. We all had locations that we wanted to visit during our free time, like Abbey Road where the Beatles’ famous crosswalk image was captured. I personally wanted to see the house where part of “The Parent Trap” was filmed, so I found the address and led a small group to these locations. During another free time excursion, I led a group downtown to see some of the architecture like the Gherkin, and then back to our hotel. It was so much fun learning how to navigate this foreign city throughout the week with our tour guide and then using that knowledge to guide a small group on my own.

When I returned from London and Paris, I knew that I wanted to visit more countries as a student. To that end, I am planning to participate in the global experience course, Global Cities: Architecture Ideals, Urban Forms, and Artistic Aspirations (ACH271), that will include travel to Italy in May 2019. I am already excited for the memories and experiences that are to come from my next global experience.

For more information on Penn College global experiences, contact the International Programs Office at

Education, Global Experience, People

Saying No?

By Davie Jane Gilmour, October 3, 2016

I often tell people that I don’t like to say “no.”

Rather than saying “no,” I prefer to ask “how?” In doing so, I try to inspire creative thinking, in myself as well as others. Often, just taking a different perspective shows me the way to do something that I previously did not think was possible.

Read more

From the President, Inspiration

Taking Chances

By Davie Jane Gilmour, September 21, 2016

“If you don’t take a chance, you don’t stand a chance.”

I am not sure who said this. It wasn’t me. I discovered the quote in my reading and found there was some dispute about its source. It might be Oprah. It might be someone else. In any case, it is how I live; it’s how I conduct myself at work and in my personal life.

Read more

From the President, Inspiration