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North Hills

CCAC North hosting forum slated to address solutions to opioid addiction

Tony LaRussa
| Tuesday, March 21, 2017, 9:00 p.m.

A quirk in how drug overdoses are reported in statistics may give some people a false sense that their community is managing to escape the increase in deaths caused by opioid abuse, according to a spokeswoman for the FBI in Pittsburgh.

“Just because overdoses aren't happening in a particular community doesn't mean it isn't being affected,” said Kelly K. Wesolosky, the field office's community outreach specialist. “The statistics for overdoses are recorded for the area they occur, not where the person lives. It's quite common for someone to go outside their community to obtain and use drugs. This crisis is impacting every community.”

To help address the opioid crisis, a town forum will be held April 11, at the Community College of Allegheny County North Campus in McCandless, which is co-sponsoring the event with the FBI, the Town of McCandless and North Allegheny School District.

According to the national Centers for Disease Control And Prevention, drug overdose deaths in the United States nearly tripled between 1999 and 2014. The CDC noted that among the 47,055 overdose deaths in 2014, 60.9 percent involved an opioid.

In Allegheny County, there were 219 overdose deaths in 2008 compared to 520 in 2016, according to the county health department.

In addition to Wesolosky, who conduct's the FBI's Heroin Outreach Prevention and Education, or HOPE, program, panelists will include Brian Dempsy of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency; Dr. Michael Lynch, medical director of the Pittsburgh Poison Center; Alexander Hoffman, outreach specialist at Brooktree Health Services; Chico Ficerai of Six Steps to Sanity, a ministry for families dealing with addiction; and McCandless Police Chief David DiSanti. The presentations will be followed by a question-and-answer session.

The program will cover topics including how opioids affect the brain, warning signs of addiction, treatment options as well as recognizing symptoms of an overdose and how to respond, Wesolosky said.

While illicit drug use can lead to arrest, Wesolosky said law enforcement officials do not necessarily see locking people up as a solution to the opioid crisis.

“There's a feeling that we can't arrest our way out of this problem,” she said. “So from the law enforcement side, there's a lot of people working on educating the community — especially kids and teens — about the dangers of prescription opioid abuse because addiction can come quick and it's a slippery slope toward heroin.”

McCandless manager Toby Cordek said town officials began discussing the idea of hosting a forum on opioid addiction and overdoses last summer after he and members of council attended the Allegheny County League of Municipalities' annual conference.

“One of the presenters was (former) U.S. Attorney David Hicketon who really enlivened peoples' awareness of the opioid problem,” Cordek said. “After the conference, council members started talking about what the town could do to help, so I was asked to try and get something kick started.”

Cordek said Councilwoman Kim Zachary, who works as a nurse anesthetist, provided him with information about initiatives that can be taken to begin addressing the problem.

“As we continued researching the issue, an awareness emerged that everybody is part of the team when it comes to addressing this problem,” the manager said. “Opioid addiction crosses all ages, all incomes and can happen in any family. So this is an opportunity for local government, the school district, experts and the public to mingle and begin forging some solutions.”

Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-772-6368 or tlarussa@tribweb.com.

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