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Hempfield Area High School drug forum focuses on informing, finding solutions to addiction

Jamie Martines
| Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
Olivia Roll, 12, and her twin sister, Hannah Roll, seventh-graders at West Hempfield Middle School, speak with Sarah Younger, a drug and alcohol counselor with New Freedom Recovery Center in North Huntingdon, during a community drug forum Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017, at Hempfield Area High School. The event was hosted by the school district and Westmoreland County Drug Overdose Task Force.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Olivia Roll, 12, and her twin sister, Hannah Roll, seventh-graders at West Hempfield Middle School, speak with Sarah Younger, a drug and alcohol counselor with New Freedom Recovery Center in North Huntingdon, during a community drug forum Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017, at Hempfield Area High School. The event was hosted by the school district and Westmoreland County Drug Overdose Task Force.
Nicole Campbell, education specialist with National Alliance on Mental Illness in Pittsburgh, speaks with Gerri Coulson during the community drug forum Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017, at Hempfield Area High School. Coulson said she visited the event to gather resources and information for her friend, whose husband died of alcoholism. The event was hosted by the school district and Westmoreland County Drug Overdose Task Force.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Nicole Campbell, education specialist with National Alliance on Mental Illness in Pittsburgh, speaks with Gerri Coulson during the community drug forum Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017, at Hempfield Area High School. Coulson said she visited the event to gather resources and information for her friend, whose husband died of alcoholism. The event was hosted by the school district and Westmoreland County Drug Overdose Task Force.

The public has questions about addiction and treatment.

How do I know if my friend has a problem? Does my insurance cover treatment? How do local schools support students in recovery?

But one question comes up again and again, treatment and recovery experts say.

How can I get help?

Local experts, nonprofit representatives, law enforcement and people in recovery gathered Wednesday at Hempfield Area High School to field these questions during a community drug forum.

The event, hosted by the district and the Westmoreland County Drug Overdose Task Force, focused on shifting the discussion of the county's opioid epidemic from problems to solutions and featured a screening of the documentary film "The Anonymous People," which highlighted recovery efforts nationwide.

"I just think it's really important to give people information," said Abby Zorzi, 24, of Greensburg, who spoke during a question-and-answer panel after the film screening.

Zorzi has been in recovery for four years and thinks it's important for the public to see the face of recovery. When she needed help, it was hard to know who to turn to, she said.

"I may have known people in recovery, but I didn't really know (that they were)," she said, adding that it's not always obvious if someone else is going through this experience if they don't talk about it.

About 25 nonprofits and other organizations that focus on addiction treatment and recovery were available to answer attendees' questions.

Some present at the event pointed out the importance of understanding the roots of addiction.

"We see a significant relationship between childhood trauma and addiction," said Nick Landolina, clinical supervisor and therapist at Axiom Family Counseling Services, which offers counseling for substance abuse and mental health issues. He added that not all heroin addiction, for example, starts with abuse of prescription medication.

Part of the recovery process involves personalizing treatment for the individual, Landolina said.

In some cases, individuals who want to start recovery have trouble accessing it, said Kira Lopresto, outreach specialist at Greenbriar Treatment Center, another organization at the event.

Some people can't get treatment because their insurance doesn't cover it, while others can't get a spot in a recovery center because there aren't enough beds, Lopresto said. Some can't get to a center because they don't have transportation. Many can't go because they don't have access to child care, she said.

Hempfield students involved in the school's Students Against Destructive Decisions organization also participated, with the hope that they can help get information out to parents and students.

"I think our classmates, unfortunately, think it's a joke," Maya Bhatnagar, a 12th-grade student at Hempfield and co-chair of SADD, said of how some of her peers perceive programs about drug education and prevention.

Bhatnagar and fellow SADD members restarted the organization this year after a hiatus using a grant received from the Westmoreland Drug and Alcohol Commission Council on Substance Abuse and Youth program. The students said they hope to help their classmates realize the impact of substance abuse, to show them how to get help if they need it and to start a dialogue about making safe decisions.

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at jmartines@tribweb.com, 724-850-2867 or via Twitter @Jamie_Martines.

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