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Westmoreland County rally held to combat 'demon of drug addiction'

| Sunday, June 30, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Lindsay Dill | Tribune-Review
Lucy Garrighan Short of Murrsyville, whose son died two years ago as a result of heroin use, is comforted by friends on Saturday, June 29, 2013, during a Sage’s Army march and rally in Greensburg.

As Nicole Riffle, 25, of Greensburg listened to speakers talk of the fatal consequences of drug addiction on Saturday, she said she is dedicated to keeping herself free of drugs.

She first flirted with drugs seven years ago, she said. She became addicted to heroin through a former boyfriend and ended up addicted to Suboxone, a maintenance drug she was using to wean herself from heroin, she said.

She has been drug-free since Oct. 28, 2011, she said.

“You have to replace the bad people and places with good people” and rely on Narcotics Anonymous for help, said Riffle, who was among more than 250 people who gathered in Courthouse Square in Greensburg for an anti-drug rally sponsored by Sage's Army.

The community drug awareness group was founded by Carmen Capozzi in memory of his son Sage, 20, of Irwin, who died on March 5, 2012, of a drug overdose in a Hempfield motel room.

Programs like the rally and march raise awareness about the drug problem in the community and “cut back on the stigma of drug addiction,” said Tony Marcocci, a Westmoreland County narcotics detective for more than 20 years.

“These are good kids who come from good families who made a mistake, and it's a shame that it can be with them for the rest of their life,” Marcocci said.

To help battle the problem, parents need to know the signs of drug addiction, he said.

At its current rate, Westmoreland County is on pace to surpass its 2012 record of 78 drug overdose deaths by 40 percent, reaching 110 by the end of the year, Coroner Kenneth Bacha said last week. Twenty-seven of the 2012 overdoses involved heroin.

Westmoreland County has formed a drug and alcohol task force to attack the problem by getting together the various groups that are working to prevent drug abuse, county Commissioner Charles Anderson said.

The rally helps not only to educate the public about the drug problem, but to identify the sources for treating the problem, said Commissioner Tyler Courtney.

Capozzi, 47, devotes his energy to making people aware of the drug problem.

“We are still fighting the demon of drug addiction,” which begins with bad influences on young people and becomes a choice they make, he said.

“Have compassion for people suffering from the disease of addiction,” Capozzi said.

The county needs a court to handle drug-related offenses, which would focus on treatment, intervention and prevention, said Tim Phillips, director of Community Prevention Services of Westmoreland.

Phillips told the crowd that recovery is possible, but more money must be allocated to make treatment available to prevent relapses.

“No addict seeking recovery needs to die. People are literally dying, waiting for a bed” in a rehabilitation facility for a 90-day stay, he said. Addicts released from shorter stints “do the same damn thing over again,” sometimes with fatal results.

Ryan Rupert, 36, of Avonmore said he is a recovered addict who once used heroin and cocaine. He brought his 14-year-old daughter Morgan to the rally to make her aware of the problems of drug addiction, he said.

Rupert, who said he has been clean for three years and eight months, speaks at rehabilitation programs and drug awareness events.

“If I can help one other person, then I feel it (addiction) was not for nothing,” he said.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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