Hempfield student's overdose death is fifth since Tuesday
The death of a Hempfield Area High School senior is the latest drug overdose fatality in Westmoreland County, one of five the coroner's office has investigated since Tuesday.
Jonathan Morelli, 18, died Wednesday at his home, according to Coroner Ken Bacha.
Bacha said the deputy investigating Morelli's death found “evidence to indicate drug use,” but he won't know which drug was involved until toxicology tests are complete.
Hempfield Superintendent Andy Leopold said counselors met with students and teachers at Crossroads, an alternative education program for students with discipline problems, where Morelli was a student. Students were allowed to go home for the day after news of Morelli's death spread, and the district had a school psychologist on call, he said.
“A number of students went home with their parents, who came to school to take them home,” Leopold said.
The coroner's office investigated one drug overdose death Tuesday and three on Wednesday, Bacha said. A fifth person died after being hospitalized in an intensive care unit for nearly two days.
The overdose deaths this week bring the number so far this year to 16, according to the coroner.
Overdose deaths in Westmoreland reached an all-time high in 2012. Bacha's deputies investigated 71 overdose deaths last year, surpassing the record of 64 in 2011, according to year-end statistics.
The majority involved prescription painkillers; 22 were heroin-related.
Fourteen more suspected cases may be added to the total after toxicology test results are complete, Bacha said.
In comparison, the coroner's office investigated 22 overdoses in 2002.
Westmoreland County Judge Alfred Bell, who handles a heavy case load of drug-related offenses, said an average of one to three defendants who have been in his courtroom die each month from drug overdoses, usually from heroin and other opiates.
“Most are decent, middle-class kids who are dying,” Bell said.
Between 80 and 90 percent of the defendants who come before him say they use heroin, he said.
“We need to make the public aware how big the problem is, how it affects the public,” Bell said.
Hempfield has a program to deal with drug use, and the school board created a drug awareness committee headed by Director Randy Stoner to emphasize drug education in the district.
Stoner helped to initiate a voluntary home-drug testing program in the district and promotes Reality Tours for students at the Westmoreland County Courthouse.
Citing privacy laws, Leopold declined to comment on an incident last month, when administrators caught a student in a locker room with several bags of heroin.
Students who violate drug policies typically are expelled or are sent to Crossroads after a hearing before the school board. In 2010, the school board expelled 15 students for drug-related offenses.
Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Hempfield infant fights rare disease
- Westmoreland County Transit Authority to buy 12 minibuses
- Westmoreland officials fear loss of impact fees
- Lineup released for Greensburg concert series
- New Kensington man gets probation for having teen sex videos
- Budget work ahead for Southmoreland School District
- Fracking foes pack zoning discussion in Ligonier Township
- Southmoreland School District focused on growing population, boosting achievement among students
- Technology, teaching style set district apart, Mt. Pleasant Area administrators say
- Scottdale, Everson — separated by creek — share mining past
- Hempfield to give $13K to Greensburg Hempfield Area Library