Overdose solutions offered during Norwin forum

| Thursday, April 25, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Officials decried the drug problem in Westmoreland County during a drug awareness forum on Wednesday, and they presented solutions, some of which demand action by residents.

Several local and state officials spoke to an audience of about 75 in North Huntingdon at the “Norwin Community Drug Awareness Forum,” the latest in a series of such summits throughout the county.

“We have a problem in Westmoreland County,” state Sen. Kim Ward said. “We no longer have the drug issue just in the cities. We have it everywhere. We have a bad problem here. We need to do something to address it.”

Ward, a Hempfield Republican, vowed that government officials will “do what we can” to help.

Gary Tennis, state secretary of the Drug Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, said he traveled to the event from Harrisburg because of the “huge spike” of overdose deaths in Westmoreland County.

“Either (they're) dying from prescription drug overdose deaths,” Tennis said. “Or they're starting with prescription drugs, and when they get addicted … they transfer over to heroin.”

Tennis proposed several solutions:

• Get rid of prescription drugs in home medicine cabinets by taking them to a “drug take back day.” Do not flush them.

• Install a permanent prescription drug collection box at every police station in Pennsylvania. The Norwin Lions Club, which hosted the forum, is partnering with township police to buy a lockbox for the department enabling people to drop off their prescription drugs anytime, Gina Davis, director of Norwin Reality Tour, said.

• Ask drugstores to hand out flyers about the risks of keeping prescription drugs and about how to discard them.

• Enact a prescription monitoring system that would track people who travel from doctor to doctor hunting for drugs. The system would also flag doctors who hand out an abundance of prescriptions for drugs like oxycodone.

• Train doctors to stop overprescribing pain medications.

“As we put in these prescription drug controls, we know this will help,” Tennis said. “Each one is a piece of it. There is no panacea.”

The bottom line, Tennis said: “This problem is too large. … I urge that we really keep solution oriented. … We will find that we're going to make progress on this issue.”

Coroner Ken Bacha said 580 people have died from drug overdoses in the county since 2002.

It affects everybody from teenagers to the elderly, he said.

“It's a little beat-up mobile home in the backwoods of Derry Township to a million dollar home in Murrysville,” he said.

Detective Tony Marcocci, a 33-year veteran of the district attorney's office, said heroin is at “an epidemic level” in the county.

“Trust me when I tell you: This drug or addiction is going to touch each and every one of you,” Marcocci said.

Carmen Capozzi founded Sage's Army in memory of his son who died at age 20 of a heroin overdose. The group, Capozzi said, is based on “spreading awareness and breaking the stigma.”

After Sage died, Capozzi said he spent two days on the floor.

“As clear am I talking to you, Sage came and said, ‘Dad get up. They're not bad kids. You have to help.'”

Capozzi said he needed an army of awareness, and so he's printed T-shirts and launched a website for the group.

“Sage's Army is trying to break the stigma,” Capozzi said. “Sage's Army is about solutions.”

Rossilynne Skena is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6646.

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