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Valley News Dispatch

3 Alle-Kiski schools honored for efforts in fight against opioids

Emily Balser
| Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, 12:51 a.m.
Freeport Area High School senior Gregg Miller, 17, shows his group's winning video in the annual FBI Pittsburgh Division’s HOPE PSA contest. The group took first place in the people's choice category.
Emily Balser | Tribune-Review
Freeport Area High School senior Gregg Miller, 17, shows his group's winning video in the annual FBI Pittsburgh Division’s HOPE PSA contest. The group took first place in the people's choice category.

Three Alle-Kiski Valley high schools have been recognized for their work to promote awareness about the opioid crisis.

Freeport Area High School, Fox Chapel High School and Leechburg Middle/Senior High School placed first, second and third, respectively, in the people's choice category of the annual FBI Pittsburgh Division's HOPE PSA contest.

In response to the statewide heroin and opioid epidemic, the FBI Pittsburgh Division has partnered with the Penguins Foundation, educators, law enforcement and treatment and rehabilitation facilities to form the Heroin Outreach Prevention and Education initiative. The group works to find solutions to the epidemic, particularly in the areas of education, prevention and awareness.

The winners got to attend a Penguins game with box seat tickets to celebrate their accomplishments. Each team also received grants from the Penguins Foundation that will go toward the schools' video production equipment. Freeport won $5,000, Fox Chapel won $2,500 and Leechburg won $1,500.

Freeport students Brandon Bowser, Gregg Miller, Kennedi Clark, Mason Hacker, Ryan Shaffer and David Malecki worked together to come up with the focus of their video which features recovering addicts and emergency personnel with the theme "Fight Back."

The students partnered with New Kensington-based Lost Dreams Awakening, a nonprofit addiction counseling center, to find people who were willing to share their stories of addiction.

Miller, 17, said they had so many people interested in talking to them that they ended up having to turn some away because they ran out of time.

"If the people who use the drug are now turning and saying this needs to stop there's obviously some sense of desperation there, to where we need to start acting preemptively to where we can stop the epidemic in its tracks," he said.

Shaffer, 17, competed for the first time this year. He said he was surprised to learn about the connection between prescription opioids and heroin use.

"It was very eye opening," he said.

This is the second year Freeport has won first place.

"It's exciting in an odd way because the topic itself is really depressing, it's not very uplifting to say the least, but it's something that needs to get out there," Miller said. "I believe that silence is what allows this epidemic to continue going the way that it is."

Tawnya Lunz, Freeport's media teacher, said she is proud of the documentary-style video the group produced.

"We always try to do meaningful projects," she said.

Fox Chapel sophomore Grace Han led her school's video production with the theme "Know more to No More." Students Jonathan Stamy, Anna Vignali, Charles Howard-Carthorn, Michael Prato, Aislinn Nnoko, Madilyn Harajda, William Generett and Chloe Mackay acted in the video.

Han has first-hand experience working with recovering addicts because she's been volunteering with Prevention Point Pittsburgh, a need exchange program.

"I wanted to compete because filming and editing videos has always been a huge interest of mine, and I wanted to get the message out about the dangers of opioid drug use," she said.

Han said creating the video gave her an opportunity to learn more about addiction.

"The most important lesson I learned through research is that addiction is a disease which is both preventable and treatable," she said. "Because teenagers are so vulnerable to addiction, we have to help teens prevent becoming addicted in the first place."

Fox Chapel multimedia teacher Ryan Devlin used the video for drug education in his other classes.

"It gave me a great opporunity to talk with them a little bit about heroin usage," he said.

While most of Leechburg's team competed and placed last year, sophomore Sophie Daugherty, 15, was new to the experience.

The team, which included Daugherty, Alexis Price, Trent Foster and Joseph Price, created a video with the theme "The Choice is Yours."

"I didn't know much about it before but I did learn that there (are) a lot more people abusing opiods," Daugherty said.

Kris Kulick, Leechburg's video production teacher, said the students put a lot of work into the project.

"I kind of let them run with it and give my pointers," he said. "I try to leave it all on them and let them make the decisions."

Foster, a senior, plays the main character in the video who struggles with choosing to do drugs or not.

"I found that it's really saddening to see that so many people in our area actually go through these different phases of drug addiction," Foster said. "I just am glad that I'm able to try and address the issue and try to help out the community."

Emily Balser is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4680, emilybalser@tribweb.com or on Twitter @emilybalser.

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