Meeting to target drug awareness
Scott Andreassi remembers a time when drugs were just a “big city” problem.
That time, however, has been all but reduced to a faded memory.
During more than a decade as Armstrong County District Attorney, Andreassi has seen the reach of substance abuse extend farther from Pittsburgh to become a part of life in and around Kittanning.
“At one time, the drug ‘business' targeted large urban areas, but that's not so anymore,” said Andreassi.
“The drug problem in the Kittanning area isn't unlike that in many other small towns: Dealers target such areas as quick ways to make money.”
In an effort to push back against the pull of drugs, Andreassi will team up with Armstrong County Narcotics Enforcement Team (ARMNET) Detective Frank Pitzer and a panel of other local experts for a community drug awareness meeting at 6 p.m. Monday at West Shamokin High School in Cowanshannock.
ARMNET has been conducting similar meetings monthly since last year, and Pitzer said there's a simple reason behind that.
“We need help from the community to be our eyes and ears where law enforcement might not be so that we can get in there and take care of it,” said Pitzer.
“(Residents) can tell us specifically where the problem is, and we can tell them exactly what to look for.”
Because, even if you think you're informed on the topic, the threats facing the Kittanning area are much different than they were even a few years ago.
“In the past, the primary drugs (in the area) were marijuana and alcohol,” said Andreassi.
“But with a new generation, we're seeing a willingness to experiment with more hard core and much more dangerous drugs.”
Andreassi said there's been an obvious increase in the use and traffic of heroin and cocaine along with a new type of addiction that has quickly gripped the area.
“The trend we've seen recently is with the use of prescription medication,” he said. “And an increase in forged scripts, thefts and related crimes with the purpose of obtaining prescription (drugs).”
In mid-November, nine people in the area involved in unrelated prescription drug schemes including a pharmacist and a registered nurse were arrested in a countywide round-up.
Helping All Victims In Need (HAVIN) executive director Jo Ellen Bowman, who also will speak at the meeting, echoed Andreassi's assessment.
“Unfortunately, we see it all,” she said. “Heroin and prescription drug abuse are two of the most prevalent.”
At HAVIN, victims of sexual and domestic abuse are given sanctuary, and Bowman said their stories are often inextricably linked to substances.
“Oftentimes when there is domestic and sexual violence, there are also drugs and alcohol involved,” she said. “Those under the influence often engage in more severe assaults. But there is no excuse for violent behavior.”
In some cases, Bowman said, drugs and alcohol are the actual weapons of abuse.
“Sometimes offenders provide drugs and alcohol to underage teens who have a difficult time making safe choices because they're under the influence,” said Bowman. “And it's also used as a tool for silence. Offenders often tell teens they'll get in trouble (themselves) for engaging in illegal behavior.”
And it isn't only the offenders of abuse who often use substances.
“Sometimes victims of violence turn to drugs and alcohol as coping mechanisms for their trauma,” said Bowman. “But we want them to get counseling and support and to work at not self-medicating.”
Bowman believes communication is the key to turning things around in Armstrong County.
“Parents and family members should learn about addiction and specific drugs,” she said. “Talk with your children, stay connected, know the signs of addiction and do something. And if you have an addiction, seek help.”
Andreassi stresses the importance of initiatives like the meeting on Monday.
“The most important thing anyone can do is to get involved by taking part in block watch programs, education programs at the school and church levels and being a part of each and every community effort,” he said. “In the end, drugs will be dealt where there is the least threat of intervention. If we all work together to make our communities known as ‘no drug zones,' the drug dealers will go elsewhere.”
Tim Karan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-543-1303 or firstname.lastname@example.org.