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Westmoreland woman commissions film revealing pain, cost of drug addiction

Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Rachele Morelli, mother of Jonathan Morelli, photographed before the dinner and screening of a film about her son's life on October 8, 2013 at Ferrante's Lakeview Lounge near Greensburg.

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By Richard Gazarik
Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Rachele Morelli's worst nightmare came true on Feb. 6 when her son, Jonathan, died of a heroin overdose. He was 18.

“This was the worst nightmare I could imagine,” she said. “To lose your child, to bury your child is the most horrific thing you could go through.”

Morelli screened a documentary film on Tuesday at Ferrante's Lakeview in Hempfield detailing how her son became a heroin addict, his death and the impact his death had on his family, as well as friends who also were addicts.

The professionally made film by Northshore Pictures in Pittsburgh is an emotional, candid work that reflects the pain Morelli's family and friends experienced when they learned of his death.

The film features home videos interspersed with frank discussions by Westmoreland County Coroner Ken Bacha, county Detective Tony Marcocci and drug counselor Tim Phillips of Westmoreland Community Action as well as classmates from Hempfield Area High School where he was a student.

The screening was held the night before state narcotics officials and district attorneys from eight Southwestern Pennsylvania counties are scheduled to testify before the House Subcommittee on Crime and Corrections in Hempfield about the heroin epidemic that could cause as many as 110 drug overdose deaths this year, Bacha said.

“I repeatedly had this dream that would not stop,” Rachele Morelli said. “The dream kept happening over and over.”

The dream was about a film on her son's life.

“It is my true belief ... there are people who want to crawl up in a ball and hide. There are other people who get angry. Heroin took the most precious thing in my life,” she told a crowd of about 200 people. “I said OK, I'm going to do this.”

Using her own money and donations from friends, Morelli commissioned the film and has distributed it free to school districts throughout the county.

His mother said Jonathan Morelli became an addict following surgery. First it was Vicodin to ease the pain, then OxyContin, and finally heroin. Jonathan suffered from depression, and the drugs eased the depression, his mother said.

“I wish I knew then what I know now,” his mother continued. “I didn't understand addiction. I look back now and I'm so ashamed. My son was fighting for his life.

“The pain is unbearable, but other people need to be made aware of the struggle. If this film saves one person's life ... then the people affected by this didn't die in vain.”

In the film, Bacha says that Jonathan's death was personal.

“Jonathan just wasn't another case number for the Westmoreland County Coroner's Office. He was someone I knew,” Bacha recounted.

One young woman in the film described how she starting drinking in the sixth grade and was an alcoholic by ninth grade. Then it was pills and finally heroin. Another recovering heroin addict recounted how she attended funerals of five friends who died of overdoses in one year.

Two friends of Jonathan Morelli recounted how they learned of his death. They were called into the principal's office at Hempfield and saw a third friend standing there crying.

“I just broke down,” said the teen. “I just didn't feel it was real.”

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at

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