Level Green seminar to warn about drug dangers

| Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

After a year in which Penn Township police made 121 arrests for drug violations and the Penn Township Ambulance Association responded to 35 overdoses, the Level Green Lions Club is organizing a drug-awareness and prevention symposium for the community.

The Feb. 19 program at the Level Green community building is among the efforts that many Lions Clubs across the state are coordinating to address to drug problem in their communities.

The scheduled panelists include Penn Township police Chief John Otto; school resource officer David Meyers; Westmoreland County Chief Adult Probation Officer Bruno Mediate; Tim Phillips, the director of Community Prevention Services of Westmoreland; and prevention-specialist and therapist Richard Bane.

Police in the region frequently say that many of the burglary cases in their communities are related to an offender's drug habit.

“It's kind of a situation where I think we need, as a Lions Club and people who care about their community, to recognize that this is a serious issue, and it does need everyone's attention,” said Larry Harrison, president of the Level Green Lions Club.

The drug problem in the county has become more dire over the last couple of years. The county coroner's office handled 92 overdose deaths in 2013, representing an increase of 14 from the record a year earlier.

In recent weeks, a deadly batch of heroin laced with fentanyl has been circulating in the Pittsburgh region.

Even abuse of prescription drugs is a significant problem. Penn Township is among the police departments that recently set up a permanent drop-off box so people can leave unused prescription pills on a no-questions-asked basis.

Drug abuse often is connected to crime in communities. The crime statistics in Westmoreland County are similar to state and national figures, with about 75 percent of criminal offenders dealing with a substance-abuse problem, Mediate said.

That makes it harder for people who are trying to restart their lives after a criminal case.

“It only enhances the problem,” Mediate said. “The stuff that's out there now, people get addicted to it. You see people, they were a high-school athlete or they were good students, they use drugs once or twice, and then they're hooked on it.

“It's a long journey, and, for some people, it's a very difficult journey.”

Bane's experience in drug intervention and therapy includes a 20-year stint as Gateway High School's coordinator of student assistance before that position was eliminated. In that role, Bane worked with students who needed to be referred to counseling for drug and alcohol or mental-health issues.

Of the drug and alcohol cases he sees these days, about 40 percent involve heroin and another 20 percent are for other drugs. The other cases involve alcohol abuse.

Any solution to reducing drug use requires involvement from police, educators, parents and children to be able to work, Bane said.

“We'd like to certainly convey the urgent need to mobilize the community,” he said. “You just look at the 22 heroin deaths in Allegheny County (over a couple of weeks in January). This is a community problem.”

Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or cforeman@tribweb.com.

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