Carnival of Love in Harmar aimed at opioid addiction
Charlie Javit was the strong and quiet type, and loved girls. He was only 17 when he died on Feb. 12, 2008.
His sister, Jennifer Marie Javit, was into fashion and had every opportunity in life, but fell in with the wrong people. She was 29 when she died on April 2, 2012. Jesse Javit was the kind of guy who'd help those being bullied. He died on Nov. 24, 2015, at 27.
And each time Patty Wright saw one of her childrens' lives end she felt helpless.
Jennifer died from a combination of cocaine and heroin, while Jesse died from heroin, according to the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office.
Charlie didn't use drugs, his mother said, and his death from methadone poisoning was ruled accidental.
“I just can't believe I'm still standing. There's some reason I do. I stay very busy,” said Wright, 53. “I feel their presence around me. That's comforting.”
Two years after Jesse's death, Wright is planning a Carnival of Love to raise awareness of the heroin epidemic at her shop, Riverview Antique N Marketplace , on Freeport Road in Harmar.
“There's some reason I'm here,” she said. “Maybe mine is to help other people.”
The highlight of the Oct. 14 event will be a candlelight vigil at dark, with participants stretched out hand-in-hand through the Acmetonia neighborhood.
In Allegheny County, 3,238 people died from overdoses between 2008 and 2017, with just over half from heroin, according to the county.
There were 650 deaths last year, and 344 so far this year.
Wright hopes the vigil will help people see clearly just how bad the heroin crisis is, and something good can come from her losses.
“I don't know how far it's going to get. I'll be happy if people come and the word starts getting out,” Wright said. “I'm anxious to see how it works out. I hope it's big. Pittsburgh needs a wake-up call.”
Wright set up an account at PNC Bank to receive donations to the Carnival of Love. She was looking for a local group to donate the event's proceeds to, as well as volunteers to help with the running the carnival.
The carnival is an outlet that Patty needs, said her niece, Jean McDade, 51, of Indiana Township.
“She's finally starting to come to a little bit of peace with it. Now, she wants to help other people,” she said. “Patty has a huge heart. She just wants to help other people so they don't go through what she had to go through. If I know her, she will spend the rest of her life trying to help other people.”
Wright has had six children. She has outlived five, all from her first marriage.
In addition to Jennifer, Jesse and Charlie, she lost two others — a daughter, Kristy Lynn Javit, died at just 3 months in 1986; a son, John “Buddy” Javit, was 8 when he was hit and killed by a car on his bike in Etna in 1993.
“Patty is one of the strongest people I know,” McDade said. “I don't know anyone who can lose five children and still go on.”But, “For as tough as she acts, she is just dying inside, you know that she is,” McDade said. “She puts on this front, but you can tell.”
Jennifer was Wright's eldest, born to her when she was 18. Wright faults her for Jesse and Charlie's deaths.
Jennifer started first. “It was just a domino effect,” Wright said.
There's a genetic component to addiction, and it does run in families, said Dr. Neil Capretto, medical director of Gateway Rehabilitation Center, based in Center Township, Beaver County.
“Genetic links of addiction tend to make a person vulnerable for potentially anything that is addictive and available,” he said. “Siblings are close. Often younger siblings want to be like their older siblings. They may have similar groups of friends. If they are people who use, it makes it more likely they'll use.”
Wright said Jennifer started with marijuana before moving to heroin, and it was Jennifer who shot Jesse up for the first time when he was 16.
Wright said her relationship with Jennifer was “in and out,” and they were at odds a lot. She doesn't know why she turned to drugs.
“She was a loving girl. She was a sweetheart,” Wright said. “The drugs — it's all she thought about. She was always on something.”
McDade said she remembers the three only from when they were little, and that's the only pictures she has of them.
“It's too sad to think about what they became, and what they could've become,” she said. “They were really nice kids.”
Addiction is not rational, Capretto said.
“People who are using today know people are dying,” he said. “They may have had friends who died.
“That's not going to keep them from using. They're compelled,” he said. “It hijacks the survival instinct of the brain.
“They believe if they don't get it, they will die. That's not a rational thought. That's the urge they get from the drive centers of the brain, which addiction will hijack.”
Wright said her well-off father, now deceased, doted on Jennifer and supported her, but wouldn't believe she was using, even when shown the needles.
“She had every opportunity. She could've went to school anywhere,” she said. “She got in with the wrong people.”
Wright said she tried to save her daughter, going as far as turning her in to the police.
Wright said Jennifer had been arrested “quite a few times.” Online court records show 20 arrests, from 2005 to January 2012.
“There was nothing I could do. It was the worst time of my life,” she said. “I tried everything.”
When Jennifer last came out of rehab, Wright said they were talking and were planning on taking a Zumba class together.
She died a week after leaving rehab.
“As soon as they get out of rehab and their tolerance is down, they use what they thought they could use and they die,” she said.
Capretto said a lowered tolerance is something Gateway lectures its patients about.
That's what happened to Jesse, too. He was last in jail for seven months for violating probation. He went to rehab in Florida, came home, and died a week later.
Jennifer's death “didn't scare him straight,” Wright said. “That stuff is so powerful, they really lose control.”
It can go either way, Capretto said.
“Sometimes it's a wake-up call,” he said. “Sometimes the grief of it leads to emotional pain, which leads to them to want to use to block that pain. It can fuel addiction.”
A message Wright wants to get out is, if someone knows someone who is selling heroin, “tell on them.”
“Let's start telling on them all until it's so hard to get,” she said.
Grass-roots movements like Walker's are good, Capretto said.
“It's sad the reason why there's so many people involved with it,” he said. “Their own families have been touched by addiction. They're trying to channel their grief and frustration into doing something positive.”
Recovery is possible, Capretto said.
“You got to stick with it. You have to reach out for it and you have to stick with it,” he said. “It's a chronic condition. It's more like managing unstable diabetes. You have to say on top of it each day, one day at a time.”
Brian C. Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4701, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BCRittmeyer.