Yough Intermediate Middle School event educates on drug, alcohol dangers
Some were well-worn. Others were barely broken in. There were shiny red pumps and soft white slippers, clunky skateboarding sneakers and beach flip-flops.
The shoes that lined the staircase in the lobby of Yough Intermediate Middle School were the first thing many attending the district's fifth annual Drug Symposium saw upon entering the building Thursday night — a reminder of lives lost to overdoses throughout Westmoreland County in 2017.
“When you see them all, it's like each person would have walked in these shoes,” said Dorine Kozenchak, a parent in the district who coordinated the project with her daughter, Renah, an eighth-grader.
About 250 students, parents and community members attended the event. It consisted of several breakout sessions on topics ranging from statistics and trends and legal ramifications of drug use to stories of recovery. Organizations including the Sewickley and West Newton libraries, West Newton Pool, Yough Football, YMCA and Turkeytown Fire Department were present to share information about community activities.
“The more educated you are, the better off everyone will be,” Superintendent Janet Sardon told attendees.
Westmoreland County Coroner Ken Bacha estimates 2018 overdose deaths could be fewer than 120 if the current pace holds.
There have been 14 confirmed overdose deaths this year. Another 18 cases are pending as of April 11.
But Bacha, who presented on trends, demographics and costs of overdose deaths in the county, said those numbers were already out of date. His deputy texted him in between sessions, saying he was on his way to pick up another body in Latrobe.
Yough school board member Karl Spudy was in the session when Bacha read the text.
“I wouldn't want to be a kid growing up today,” Spudy said.
Student presenters also led sessions alongside local experts, giving them the chance to educate their peers, parents and other community attendees about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse.
All Yough High School students complete research projects about substance abuse in health class, health and physical education teacher Staci Roddy said. Those who presented Thursday had some of the best projects from the last two years, she said.
Student presenter Grace Luikart, a 10th-grader who presented on the overdose antidote naloxone, said she hopes the drug symposium was an opportunity to make students realize drugs aren't a joke.
“They don't really take talking about them seriously,” Luikart said, describing how some of her classmates react to drug-education events.
Alexa Cipra, a sophomore who presented on the dangers of drugs such as K2 and spice, said she wants to encourage parents to get educated about the drugs their children might be exposed to and to know what to look for.
Shaina Stants, a sophomore who presented on drunk driving, said talking to students about these issues more frequently and at a younger age could help.
“I think that everyone thinks they're invincible,” Stants said.
In an effort to reach students and families sooner, the district will distribute about 150 “pill pods” to each family that registers a kindergarten student in May, Sardon said. The devices, donated to the district by the Westmoreland County Drug and Alcohol Commission, are big enough to fit about five prescription pill bottles and are secured by a combination lock. The pods cannot be opened without entering the correct four-digit code.
The goal is to fight the opioid epidemic at the youngest age, Sardon said.
“Parents learn early, kids learn early, the importance of keeping medicines locked,” she said.
Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, 724-850-2867 or via Twitter @Jamie_Martines.