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Pleasant Hills man charged in user's heroin death

| Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014, 5:08 p.m.

Giving addicts and their families practical information about avoiding and dealing with overdoses is one of several proposals an advisory group to U.S. Attorney David Hickton is considering to reduce overdose deaths in Western Pennsylvania.

The group met for two hours on Thursday in the federal courthouse, Downtown, to review reports by subcommittees, presentations from groups and tentative recommendations for the final report it hopes to have ready for Hickton by early September. One big missing piece is how to increase the region's capacity for providing addicts with treatment, Hickton said.

Gary Tennis, the state secretary of drug and alcohol programs, said that nationally, one in 10 addicts can be treated.

Michael Flaherty, a clinical psychologist and co-chairman of the group, said the Affordable Care Act is supposed to expand coverage. Others in the group said they have heard that employers and insurance companies are pushing deductibles into the $4,000-to-$10,000 range to meet the law's requirements.

Though the law is intended to give people preventive medical care at lower co-pays, it does not extend that to substance abuse treatment, said Karen Hacker, director of the Allegheny County Health Department.

“None of this would be covered” because of high deductibles, she said.

The group discussed ways to encourage employers to offer insurance that would cover substance abuse treatment. That leads to another recommendation: Find ways to reduce or eliminate the stigma associated with addiction.

Hickton said the suicide of actor Robin Williams illustrates the link between mental health problems and addiction and shows how much researchers need to learn about the human brain and addiction.

“We're coming to appreciate that we're still in the Dark Ages in a lot of this,” he said.

One of five people indicted on Tuesday on heroin trafficking charges is charged with selling heroin to someone who died from the drug on April 22, 2013.

A federal grand jury indicted Javon Jackson, 27, of Pleasant Hills on drug charges, including heroin distribution resulting in death. He faces 20 years to life in prison if convicted. The other four defendants are charged with drug conspiracy.

Dr. Kenneth Clark of the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office said statistics show that overdoses account for two-thirds of accidental deaths in the county.

More than half of those who died from overdoses had two to seven drugs in their system, but the increase in overdoses in the past few years “seems to be almost exclusively related to prescription drugs,” he said.

In 1985, the county had 22 overdose deaths; in 2012, it had 288.

Overdose deaths spiked among people ages 25 to 34 and even more so among people ages 50 to 54, he said.

“This isn't just a young person's disease,” Clark said.

Dr. Neil Capretto, medical director of Gateway Rehabilitation Center and co-chairman of the group, said he's seeing a “wave” of people older than 50 seeking treatment for addiction, including some who are taking heroin for the first time.

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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