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Sage's Army marches on courthouse

| Monday, July 1, 2013, 6:09 p.m.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Norw
Deb and Mike Frantti of Penn Hills attend the rally for Sage's Army, a drug awareness/prevention group, outside the Westmoreland County Courthouse in Greensburg on June 29. The Frantti's lost their son five years ago to a drug overdose. They were at the rally to show their support of Sage's Army and its mission. Lillian DeDomenic | For The Norwin Star
Lillian DeDomenic | For Trib Total Media
Carmen Capozzi, founder of Sage's Army, addresses the crowd outside the Westmoreland County Courthouse on Saturday. Lucy Garrighan Short of Murrysville stands in the background surrounded by friends. Short lost her son two years ago to heroin use.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Norw
Salem Rupert, 5, sits on top of his dad, Ryan's, shoulders and waves his Sage's Army sign at a rally outside the Westmoreland County Courthouse in Greensburg on June 29. Lillian DeDomenic | For The Norwin Star
Lillian DeDomenic | For Trib Total Media
Sage's Army, a drug awareness/prevention group, staged a march outside the Westmoreland County Courthouse in Greensburg on June 29, 2013, to spread their anti-drug message. Carmen Capozzi, whose son Sage at age 20 died of a heroin overdose in 2012, started the group in memory of his son to bring awareness of the drug problem in and around Westmoreland County.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Norw
Former classmate of Sage Capozzi, Renee Hanson, 23, and her son Kage Haubrich, 3, talk with Carmen Capozzi, founder of Sage's Army at a rally outside the Westmoreland County Courthouse in Greensburg on June 29. Capozzi started the group in memory of his son, who died of a drug overdose at age 20, to bring awareness of the drug problem in and around Westmoreland County. Lillian DeDomenic | For The Norwin Star
Lillian DeDomenic | For Trib Total Media
Sage's Army, a drug awareness/prevention group, staged a rally outside the Westmoreland County Courthouse in Greensburg on June 29, 2013, to spread their anti-drug message. Carmen Capozzi, whose son Sage at age 20 died of a heroin overdose in 2012, started the group in memory of his son to bring awareness of the drug problem in and around Westmoreland County.

Sage's Army, an Irwin-based drug-awareness group, marched on the Westmoreland County Courthouse recently in the hope of promoting compassion toward and awareness of those fighting addictions.

Carmen Capozzi, 46, formed the organization after his son, Sage Capozzi, 19, died on March 5, 2012, of a heroin overdose promote awareness of drug problems among teens and create better lines of communication between parents, their children, law enforcements and educators.

He said he hopes to reach as many families and children as possible and inform them about why they should avoid drugs and not be afraid to discuss their encounters with illegal substances and addiction, Capozzi said.

“This is all about awareness and breaking the stigma of addiction,” Capozzi said. “My goal is to just bring public attention to the growing drug epidemic in Westmoreland County by coming together with recovering addicts, police and elected officials.

“The bottom line is we're all in this together, and it takes all of us working as one to make a change.”

The march marked the second time Sage's Army took its message to the courthouse.

Capozzi said he hopes people realize drug addiction and use is in their neighborhood, and average people are becoming addicts. He said fear of discrimination keeps people from seeking help or reaching out to others.

“I want everyone to realize addicts are not necessarily bad people because drugs don't discriminate; they take good, bad, poor and rich people,” he said. “We shouldn't be afraid to speak openly about addiction.”

This year is shaping up to be a record-breaking year for overdose-related deaths, according to Westmoreland County Coroner Kenneth Bacha.

Bacha said county officials reported 78 overdose deaths in 2012.

As of June 28, Bacha said, the county confirmed 46 drug-overdose deaths, with an additional seven probable overdose cases awaiting a toxicology report.

“This puts us on pace to experience approximately 110 (drug overdose deaths) by the year's end,” he said.

Assistant District Attorney Leo Ciaramitaro described drug use as an epidemic in Westmoreland County. He said an engaged community, with members who are willing to talk to their children and each other about drugs, is the only way to combat addiction.

“Unfortunately, we have a lot of work to do with drugs,” Ciaramitaro said. “We have to remain engaged with our kids and just talk to our friends and neighbors.”

The county has seen an increase in indicator crimes, which users sometimes commit in order to procure drugs, Ciaramitaro said. The most common indicator crime is retail theft, he said.

“These crimes don't necessarily seem to be drug-related, but the person is involved in the drug scene and are stealing to help get their drugs,” Ciaramitaro said. “Drugs are not free, and to get drugs, people have to give something to their dealer.”

In 2008, Ciaramitaro said the district attorney's office saw 348 counts of retail theft across the county. He said the number of retail thefts grew to 494 counts in 2012.

Although he did not indicate exactly how many cases were tied to drugs, Ciaramitaro said it is not uncommon for people to trade stolen items for drugs.

His office also saw the number of drug-paraphernalia cases grow from 546 in 2008 to 669 in 2012, Ciaramitaro said.

“We're seeing a lot more arrests,” Ciaramitaro said. “We've gone up by 130 in four years, and the majority of those are heroin related.”

Capozzi hopes to keep Sage's Army in the public eye by attending as many local events as possible.

“Sage's Army is a group of people who have lived it. It's parents helping parents and addicts helping addicts get through this,” Capozzi said. “I don't want to see any other parents ever have to go through this.”

Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8626, or bpedersen@tribweb.com.

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