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Westmoreland

Study backs role of faith in drug addiction recovery

Renatta Signorini
| Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017, 11:25 p.m.
Eric Kocian speaks to the crowd during a public forum regarding his study with John Lewis on opioid addiction Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017, at St. Vincent College.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Eric Kocian speaks to the crowd during a public forum regarding his study with John Lewis on opioid addiction Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017, at St. Vincent College.
Students, faculty and members of the public listen to a talk from Eric Kocian and John Lewis during a public forum regarding their study on opioid addiction Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017, at St. Vincent College.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Students, faculty and members of the public listen to a talk from Eric Kocian and John Lewis during a public forum regarding their study on opioid addiction Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017, at St. Vincent College.
Students, faculty and members of the public listen to a talk from Eric Kocian and John Lewis during a public forum regarding their study on opioid addiction Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017, at St. Vincent College.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Students, faculty and members of the public listen to a talk from Eric Kocian and John Lewis during a public forum regarding their study on opioid addiction Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017, at St. Vincent College.

Faith-based drug treatment could be a path more people with addiction are directed to in light of the results of a study conducted by a St. Vincent College professor.

The finding that about 92 percent of 37 people said spiritual or religious guidance for an addiction was very or somewhat helpful was significant to Westmoreland County Judge Christopher Feliciani.

“We have to do something different,” said Feliciani, who runs the county's drug court with Judge Meagan Bilik-DeFazio.

While the judges can't court order someone to seek faith-based treatment, they could present it as an option to defendants who come before them, the pair agreed.

“It tells us that some of the things we're doing, they're not as effective as others, but as judges, we can't just incarcerate them,” Bilik-DeFazio said in response to 92 percent and 85 percent of survey takers saying court-ordered jail treatment and outpatient treatment, respectively, were ineffective.

The findings were among those presented Wednesday to about 400 people at a public forum at the Unity college by Eric Kocian, an assistant professor of criminology, law and society. With the help of Indiana University of Pennsylvania professor John Lewis, the pair this spring analyzed two years' worth of data about the pathways 158 drug users in Westmoreland County reported taking, many of which ended with heroin. The study was spurred by a phone call between Kocian and county detective Tony Marcocci three years ago. Then, local officials were starting to fight back against a heroin epidemic that has only worsened locally and nationally.

Kocian, along with student researchers, interviewed people ages 18 to 63 at the county's now-closed day reporting center, the Westmoreland County Prison and other treatment centers and meetings.

Researchers asked the drug users about various types of treatment and how effective they were, and faith-based help seemed to be favored by study participants.

“Maybe they're actually getting to the source of the problem,” Kocian said.

Of 104 people who reportedly tried Narcotics or Alcoholics Anonymous, which is a spiritual-based program, 85 percent said it was very or somewhat helpful.

Those findings were important to Bishop Edward C. Malesic of the Diocese of Greensburg, who in June called on priests, parishes and parishioners to help those suffering from addiction.

“I'm really thankful that they're trying to unravel some of the cultural issues that are involved,” Malesic said after the discussion. “How can the spiritual issues help resolve this crisis?”

Malesic held seven drug education and prayer services around the diocese this summer.

“I'm happy to see the faith-based community is helping,” said county Commissioner Gina Cerilli.

Lewis and Kocian hope to re-create the study in Allegheny and Indiana counties.

“This is one sample, this is one study,” Kocian said. “We'd like to replicate it.”

Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-837-5374 or rsignorini@tribweb.com.

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