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Westmoreland County gets the word out about drug problem

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Westmoreland officials have taken to the Internet to publicize the county's drug problem, which has resulted in 49 deaths so far this year.

A 90-second public service announcement detailing the escalating drug problem debuted this month. The video can be viewed on YouTube and will air on local television stations later this summer.

“We want to tell the public that this is everybody's problem, not just a law enforcement problem. It's not who you think it is. It's people 40 years of age and older,” said Dirk Matson, co-chairman of the county's drug overdose task force.

The video is part of a social media campaign on Twitter and Facebook designed to inform the public about the drug problem.

The public service spot is the first of five planned for the campaign blitz. The videos are being paid for by a $20,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Westmoreland County.

The first half of the video focuses on images of Westmoreland County, pointing out attributes including its housing, family-friendly environment and recreational sites such as parks and lakes.

Then a casket appears, followed by a picture of an emergency room as the message shifts and notes that 86 county residents in 2013 and 49 this year have died from drug overdoses.

The video is one of the first public initiatives of the task force, whose goal is to reduce overdoses 25 percent by 2019. The number of overdoses in the county have risen dramatically since 2008.

Matson said statistics show that while heroin-related deaths have risen, most of the overdoses were caused by prescription medication.

And 64 percent of the fatal overdoses last year involved people age 41 and older, according to task force data.

Carmen Capozzi, founder of Sage's Army, a local advocacy group formed to create awareness about drug addiction and overdose problems, especially involving juveniles, called the county's video “a start.”

Capozzi's 20-year-old son, Sage, died from an overdose in 2012. County prosecutors have filed criminal charges against three men accused of being involved with selling heroin to Capozzi's son.

“They're on the right track,” Capozzi said of the video. “But we have so much more to do.”

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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