Human services chief: Bulk of county's violent crime linked to addictions
Nearly all violent crime in Westmoreland County is drug-related, and it costs taxpayers millions of dollars, according to the county's human services director.
The national epidemic of drug abuse should be treated as a public health issue rather than a crime problem, Dr. Dirk Matson said this week at a Central Westmoreland Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
In 12 years, the death rate from drug overdoses has nearly quadrupled, Matson said.
“The community needs to own the problem,” he said.
Mandatory sentencing for drug crimes has not stemmed drug abuse or prevented deaths, Matson said, but it has put financial pressure on the courts and the county jail. Though more drug addicts are being jailed, the problem has gotten worse.
An analysis of 100 deaths by the Westmoreland County Drug Overdose Task Force found that 65 percent of the victims had criminal charges pending. At some point, 58 percent had been in the county jail, and 21 percent had been in jail four or more times, he said.
In 2012, the budget for human services in Westmoreland County was nearly $171 million, while the courts spent $32 million and another $35 million on corrections, Matson said.
“I was embarrassed. I was taken off guard on how bad this was when I came to the county,” said Matson, who was hired last year after working for 35 years at Adelphoi Village in Latrobe. “It's spiraling out of control. What's the future going to hold?”
Westmoreland County set a record for overdose deaths for the fifth consecutive year in 2013, reaching 86. Officials believe the true number was at least 100, because some county residents were pronounced dead in hospitals in neighboring counties, Matson said.
This year “is off to a pretty hard sprint,” he said. “It's on a pretty good pace to break last year's record.”
Prescription drugs remain the greatest menace, despite the current focus on heroin addiction, Matson said. People who become addicted to prescribed pain medication that a physician eventually stops often turn to heroin because it's cheaper, according to experts.
Matson said many of the prescriptions are diverted to street sales for addicts.
“There is a collateral damage that is going on,” he added.
A prescription drug monitoring bill proposed last year has stalled in Harrisburg over concerns about civil liberties and privacy issues. The measure was passed by the House last November. It was referred to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.
Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
- Penn Township man who shot friend gets probation
- Police gather in Ligonier for Perryopolis officer’s funeral
- United Way surplus funds benefit 9 nonprofits in Westmoreland County
- Arbitration decides Westmoreland court workers’ pact
- 11 Westmoreland inmates accused of setting fire put in solitary confinement
- Plenty of ‘pain’ to share, as Westmoreland County budget OK’d with $8M in cuts
- Youngwood fire department reaches out to homeless family
- Ligonier man first in Pa. to own aluminum-body F-150
- Demolition project at Oliver’s Pourhouse in Greensburg moves ahead
- Unity name excised from Latrobe parks, recreation
- Mt. Pleasant man charged with unlawful restraint