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HBO films in Westmoreland for documentary on male mortality and its causes

Renatta Signorini
| Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017, 4:36 p.m.
Kenneth Bacha, the Westmoreland County Coroner, poses next to an autopsy table, in the Westmoreland County Coroner's office on July 28th, 2017.
Kyle Hodges
Kenneth Bacha, the Westmoreland County Coroner, poses next to an autopsy table, in the Westmoreland County Coroner's office on July 28th, 2017.
From left, Westmoreland County Coroner Ken Bacha, District Attorney John Peck and forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht speak during a substance abuse forum at Westmoreland County Community College near Youngwood on Wednesday, April 19, 2017.
Paul Peirce | Tribune-Review
From left, Westmoreland County Coroner Ken Bacha, District Attorney John Peck and forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht speak during a substance abuse forum at Westmoreland County Community College near Youngwood on Wednesday, April 19, 2017.
Westmoreland County Coroner main building
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Westmoreland County Coroner main building
The autopsy room at the Westmoreland County Forensic Center in Hempfield Township, on Wednesday, May 24, 2017. Dr. Cyril Wecht is moving his practice to Hempfield Township, and will be renting the autopsy room from Westmoreland County for $30,000 a year, while also saving the county an estimated $100,000 per year in costs associated with transporting bodies to and from Pittsburgh.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
The autopsy room at the Westmoreland County Forensic Center in Hempfield Township, on Wednesday, May 24, 2017. Dr. Cyril Wecht is moving his practice to Hempfield Township, and will be renting the autopsy room from Westmoreland County for $30,000 a year, while also saving the county an estimated $100,000 per year in costs associated with transporting bodies to and from Pittsburgh.
Eric Kocian speaks to the crowd during a public forum regarding his study with John Lewis on opioid addiction Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017, at St. Vincent College.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Eric Kocian speaks to the crowd during a public forum regarding his study with John Lewis on opioid addiction Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017, at St. Vincent College.

Male mortality in Westmoreland County and the factors that may cause it, including stress and the drug epidemic, will be highlighted in an HBO documentary being filmed locally, according to experts who have been interviewed for the show.

The county's forensic center in Hempfield served as a film studio, as did county Detective Tony Marcocci's undercover car.

“They actually interviewed me while we were driving around through different municipalities,” Marcocci said, noting that they stopped in one town and filmed an interview on a street corner. “I've seen that on ‘Cops' a million times, and I never thought I was going to be one of those cops.”

Crews have been in the Greensburg and Pittsburgh areas over the past several weeks learning about various communities. Interview subjects said the show's creators have asked them how stress has played a role in drug and alcohol addiction. Upcoming filming could focus on towns where jobs have disappeared as large factories and manufacturing sites closed or moved, they said.

“This is a very serious program,” said renowned forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht, who moved his private practice from Carlow University in Pittsburgh to the county's forensic center earlier this year.

Communication representatives with HBO did not return an email message Tuesday.

St. Vincent criminology professor Eric Kocian said the film crews were interested in his recently completed study that evaluated 158 current or former drug users. A June 2015 Tribune-Review article about the study must have caught HBO's eye, he said, because it included his plan to investigate whether stress plays a role in addiction.

“To see that people are taking a closer look at this epidemic” and its contributing factors is encouraging, he said.

Kocian and Indiana University of Pennsylvania professor John Lewis spent about two hours with the crew at the forensic center last month discussing the study's findings. While researchers didn't find a direct link between stress and drug use, an addiction could compromise normal coping skills, Kocian said.

During about four hours of filming, Marcocci echoed those sentiments to interviewers. Stress doesn't seem to be a factor when someone starts to use drugs, he said, but is more so when they are in the throes of an addiction and their coping skills are depleted.

Interviewers asked Wecht about the death trends he's seen in recent years, mainly from drug overdoses, but also alcoholism and suicides, he said. They have reached out to county Coroner Ken Bacha, who said Wednesday he had not done an on-camera interview.

Westmoreland County Drug Overdose Task Force director Tim Phillips said he will be interviewed in the coming weeks.

It's great that local officials can be a resource for the documentary, Phillips said, but he is concerned about how the area will be portrayed.

“I don't want the general public and the nation to think the county is the den of death or anything like that,” he said.

Correction: Sept. 13, 2017

This story was modified to correct the contact between HBO and the coroner.

Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-837-5374, rsignorini@tribweb.com or via Twitter @byrenatta.

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