TribLIVE

| News

 
Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Human services chief: Bulk of county's violent crime linked to addictions

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.

Fatal overdose facts

• 71 percent occurred in the victim's home.

• Nine families reported previous overdoses in which the victim recovered.

• 68 percent were male; 32 percent, female.

• 97 percent were white; 2 percent, black.

Source: Westmoreland County Department of Human Services

Deaths by substance

NOTE: Multiple drugs were often involved in drug-related deaths.

Benzodiazepines (tranquilizers) — 43

Antidepressants — 42

Oxycodone — 26

Heroin — 26

Antihistamines — 18

Methadone — 15

Cocaine — 14

Hydrocodone — 9

Morphine — 9

Fentanyl — 5

Source: Westmoreland County Coroner's Office

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Richard Gazarik
Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, 11:30 p.m.
 

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 rgazarik@tribweb.com.

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.

 

 


Show commenting policy

Most-Read Westmoreland

  1. Motorcyclist injured in Sewickley Township
  2. Red Onion reunion possibly the last for Hempfield coal mining village
  3. Judge denies former New Alexandria tree trimmer another chance
  4. Heroin suspect out of Westmoreland County jail on $100K bond
  5. Kecksburg celebrates its UFO history with annual festival
  6. Monessen home invasion ‘ringleader’ denied leniency
  7. Gas meter struck, road temporarily closed near Armbrust Wesleyan Church
  8. Southmoreland School director named
  9. Westmoreland torture-slaying convict Smyrnes says death row isolation too cruel
  10. Hempfield murderer serving life sentence promises restitution when he’s released
  11. Police: Greensburg man had heroin, stolen gun