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Prosecutor, ex-Steeler talk motivation, drugs at high school forum

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Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Former Steelers linebacker Robin Cole delivered the motivational message.

A prosecutor from the Mercer County District Attorney's Office countered with a threat.

Together, they were part of an anti-drug presentation Friday for regional educators and several hundred students at Kennedy Catholic High School in Hermitage.

“How did I not get trapped in addiction?” Cole asked the students, explaining that he was born in a poor neighborhood in Compton, Calif. with seven brothers and two sisters.

As a kid, he said, he dreamed of going to college but watched brother after brother graduate from high school, then join the military or get drafted for the Vietnam War.

Cole, of Eighty-Four, made it to college because he had “a vision, something you want so bad that you'll do whatever it takes to make it happen,” he said. “Who's going to make it happen? You have to make it happen.”

In recent years, opiate addiction exploded in Western Pennsylvania, officials said, affecting every age group and every socioeconomic background. The region's population is blue collar and one of the oldest in the country, meaning legally prescribed pain pills are common here, they said. The unintended result: people looking for a cheap high swipe pills from medicine cabinets, get hooked, then turn to the streets for heroin, which is cheaper and more potent and provides a similar high.

Shortly after Cole inspired the young crowd with his pro-hope and anti-drug message, Miles Karson, who fights drugs and gangs as a prosecutor, hit the students with some sobering reality.

He told them that anyone caught in a car with drugs divided into separate bags could be charged as an adult with a felony, even if he or she had no idea the baggies were in the car.

“Then you're a drug dealer (and) my whole objective in life will be to lock you up,” Karson said. Several kids laughed nervously. Karson responded: “I'm not kidding about that.”

The presentation was organized by ELM, a coalition of educators, lawyers and health care providers headed by Angelo Papa, a New Castle attorney. The event was the first of two days of presentations. Teachers meet on Saturday at the high school to discuss ways to combat drug use in Western Pennsylvania.

Dr. Neil Capretto, medical director at Gateway Rehabilitation Center, said fatal overdoses are soaring here.

In Allegheny County alone, officials reported a record 261 fatal overdoses in 2011, up from 226 the year before, he said. Opiates cause most drug fatalities.

“This is a serial killer,” Capretto said.

Students said it helped to hear the message from differing viewpoints.

“Even at a young age, you're not invincible,” said senior Chris Zehner. “I have two brothers and sisters, and I'm always worried about them. I don't want them going down that path.”

Chris Togneri is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5632 or ctogneri@tribweb.com.

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