iBerkshires.com   reports as the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition was discussing the issue of vaping in the community at its forum on Friday morning, the Centers for Disease Control was releasing information about what officials suspect is causing illness and death among those who vape.

The announcement that vitamin E acetate, an oily chemical added to some THC vaping liquids to thicken or dilute them, is being investigated as a possible culprit into the outbreak that has sickened more than 2,000 people across the country and killed at least 39 is welcome news, of course. But vaping remains an "invisible crisis" in North Berkshire, along with the misuse of alcohol, according to Wendy Penner, the Coalition's director of Prevention and Wellness.

Addressing the issue of vaping was Joyce Brewer, the TFPC program manager from Berkshire AHEC, who gave an overview of vaping for those 50 or so participants at the forum.

The CDC and public health officials are trying to get out the message that vaping devices still contain nicotine and are still addictive and harmful to one's health -- particularly in light of the illnesses and deaths recently reported. And people like Brewer want to make sure local residents know that quitting is possible and they can reach out to their doctors, hotlines like 1-800-QUIT-NOW and even places like the Beacon Recovery Community Center for help and support.

The second half of Friday's forum focused on the use and misuse of alcohol in the community -- which was a different kind of conversation, mostly because alcohol use is more widely accepted. In fact, when the forum participants were asked to rate how problematic alcohol use is in the Northern Berkshire community on a scale of 1 to 10, only a handful said 10, while one person said one.

That doesn't match with what Stephen Murray with Northern Berkshire EMS sees in his job, he shared with the group. While a lot of attention is focused on the opioid epidemic, Murray said he sees alcohol-related calls "pretty much every shift," while the same is not true for opioid-related calls.

Cross also shared a personal story related about the dangers of the misuse of alcohol: Her stepson faces significant prison time after being accused of setting her home on fire and leading police on a chase throughout Berkshire County, something she attributed to unresolved mental health and alcoholism issues.

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