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Jonathan Kremser

Dr. Jonathan Kremser

Opioids. It's the class of street and prescription drugs at the heart of a startlingly deadly epidemic striking nearly every community across the country. In fact, one in four families struggle with a substance abuse problem in Pennsylvania, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and nearly every 15 minutes someone in America dies from a related overdose.

In January, Governor Tom Wolf's was among the first to go on offense, creating a Proclamation of Disaster Emergency within Pennsylvania, to address the devastating problem of opioid addiction across the commonwealth. The results of the proclamation include better collaboration among state agencies, and additional resources for law enforcement and other first responders.  Among the experts leading these sweeping initiatives was our own Dr. Jonathan Kremser, associate professor and chair of Kutztown University's Criminal Justice program.

Since 2011, Kremser has been a member of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency Diversion Subcommittee in Harrisburg. This summer, the educator and former U.S. Navy weapons instructor presented at the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Vienna, Austria. His presentation "Breaking Barriers: Coordinating Healthcare and Police Response to the Heroin and Opioid Epidemic in the United States" was part of the 29th Annual Meeting of the International Police Executive Symposium.

More than 80 police researchers and practitioners from around the world gathered in Vienna at UNODC to facilitate cross-cultural, international and interdisciplinary exchanges with the goal of enriching the policing professions. Attendees were from all over the globe including Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Canada, Congo, Ghana, Germany, Iceland, India, Japan, Kosovo, Libya, Nepal, Norway, Portugal, Serbia, South Africa, Uganda, United Kingdom and the U.S.  Dr. Kremser's paper, which was the basis for his presentation, focused on the crisis and Wolf's groundbreaking initiatives.

"This proclamation is likely the first of its kind. It is the first disaster proclamation to ever address a manmade crisis; usually it is reserved for natural disasters," Kremser said. "The opioid epidemic is unlike anything I have ever seen. I wanted to examine Pennsylvania's unique response to it through this proclamation."

Kremser said the response to his presentation from most of the non-U.S. attendees was one of surprise; they did not realize how widespread of an issue this is in America. On the other hand, his presentation resonated with attendees from Ohio and New Jersey as a similar opioid crisis exists in their states.

"The proclamation in Pennsylvania is streamlining the response to the epidemic, which is making resources and information more readily available, along with improving data collection and communication. All of this is saving lives," Kremser said. "We are seeing that emergency responders have been administering more Naloxone, the generic version of Narcan. They also are able to leave Naloxone behind in case the person overdoses again."

Since the start of the proclamation, there has been an increase in the number of calls to the statewide hotline, which means more people are getting connected to services. But beyond this streamlined reactive approach to the epidemic, Kremser said a proactive approach is also required.

Dr. Jonathan Kremser speaking at UN symposium in Vienna, Austria

"We can't change people's behaviors. We can treat them afterwards, but we need to do something proactive to try to stop this. Prevention is key and that starts with limiting the number and length of opioid prescriptions, along with better hot spot identification" Kremser said. "Since the proclamation, the number of prescribed opioids has gone down 14 percent."

This is not the first time Kremser has been invited to present at an international conference, his expertise has been tapped multiple times before. He presented in 2012 in Canada about school surveillance during the First World War, in 2015 in Sweden about situational crime prevention, and most recently in 2018 in Switzerland where he discussed the role of youth court diversion. 

His work in the area of juvenile diversion helps provide criminal justice professionals and school administrators across Pennsylvania with alternative ways to address the needs of young, non-violent offenders while protecting the community.

Kremser said he is grateful to KU for these opportunities.

"Kutztown has provided resources which allow me to collaborate with researchers internationally in order to address critical issues within our local communities. There is also ample opportunity to collaborate with other faculty at KU who are experts in their fields," Kremser said.

"Our students benefit from world-class faculty such as Dr. Kremser at Kutztown. We are excited and proud of him for being invited to share his research on the world's stage," said Dr. David Beougher, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at KU. "His research is especially significant given the opioid epidemic's impact on Pennsylvania right now."

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