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Anti-heroin effort hits home for Murrysville teen

Patrick Varine
| Tuesday, March 8, 2016, 3:21 p.m.

Nicolas DeSarno of Murrysville knows the impact that heroin addiction can have on a family: his cousin died of an overdose in 2014 after several stints at rehab facilities in Florida.

“Before that, I didn't really know what heroin was,” DeSarno said.

Local law enforcement officials aim to change that.

In an effort to draw attention to the problem heroin and other opioids present in the Pittsburgh region, the Pittsburgh FBI and its Citizens' Academy Alumni Association developed the Heroin Outreach Prevention and Education, or HOPE, initiative.

Part of the initiative included a “Speak Out to Save Lives” contest for high school students to create a public service announcement.

DeSarno's video was awarded fourth place in the competition. All of the winners came from Westmoreland County high schools. Law enforcement officials have said heroin use is a near-epidemic problem in the county.

It is the second heroin-related video DeSarno has produced. Shortly after his cousin's death, he created a 12-minute documentary, “Heroin: An Inside Look of an Addict's Life and Recovery,” which took first place at the 2015 Television and Video Teachers Video Festival hosted by Robert Morris University.

DeSarno interviewed recovering addicts from the House of Principles in West Palm Beach, Fla., one of the places his cousin went to try and kick his addiction.

“He was there and lived with (the other interviewees) for about seven months,” DeSarno said.

Following a skateboarding accident, DeSarno's cousin was prescribed morphine and pain medication, which eventually led to his addiction.

“We didn't know at all,” DeSarno said of his cousin's drug use. “He hid it until it just got to the point where something had to be done.”

Creating the videos “definitely opened my eyes,” he said. “You don't ever really know what (addicts) are going through on a daily basis. … One thing I heard everyone say is that you don't know what (using) just one time can do to you. You're literally taking your life in your hands every time.”

In Westmoreland County, 2015 saw record numbers for the most drug overdoses (87) and overdoses caused by heroin (36). FBI statistics show that the average first-time heroin user is 12 to 17.

DeSarno said many of the addicts he spoke with want to help others get sober.

“A lot of them go around and talk to people about going into recovery, telling them that it's the best decision they could make.”

He said his main reason for creating the videos was outreach.

“I don't want other families to go through what we went through,” DeSarno said. “It's not fun.”

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2862 or pvarine@tribweb.com.

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