JEFFERSON – Ashley Potts is a team leader for the crisis diversion unit of Southwestern Pennsylvania Human Services. But that’s not why she had the attention of eight state representatives Tuesday during a policy committee hearing about heroin in Greene County.
“At 20 years old, I found myself homeless, addicted to heroin, facing a state sentence and suicidal,” she told the panel Tuesday afternoon.
Potts, now 30, will be celebrating 10 years of sobriety next month. Her testimony was one of four given at the House Democratic Policy Committee hearing on the opioid epidemic at Jefferson fire hall.
State Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Jefferson, hosted the event. She said she wanted to have the hearing last year, but due to the state budget delays, she wasn’t able to.
Snyder said she hoped continued dialogue could turn into additional legislation that could help combat the drug epidemic. State representatives from across the state, including Erie, Pittsburgh and Washington, attended the hearing.
She also is hoping the meeting will put Greene County on the map for a potential state treatment facility. Snyder said Gov. Tom Wolf recently introduced an initiative to fund 17 state treatment facilities across the state, called “Centers for Excellence,” and she’d like to see one of them open in Greene County.
“We’re trying to get people into treatment and out of the jail cells,” she said.
Bob Terry, president of the Waynesburg nonprofit rehabilitation program Steps Inside, testified to the work he’s been doing with the men’s and women’s Oxford Houses in Waynesburg and the need for additional programming in Greene County.
“The problem with heroin and other opioids is that it’s not like alcohol,” Terry said. “It takes you so far out that you want it back. It grabs you.”
Terry talked about the need for more drug-free activities in the county for young people to keep them from turning to drugs for entertainment.
“Kids without anything else to do, that’s what they’re going to do,” he said.
Kira Sisk, director of drug and alcohol programs for Greene County Human Services, talked about the trends in drug use among women in Greene County and the need for a holistic approach to women’s needs, like caretaking for their children.
“Our 2015-2016 information suggests that the primary drug of choice among women is heroin and the largest part of our referral sources come from the courts and Children and Youth Services,” she said.
Sisk said that the Bird Sisters’ Oxford House, a women’s sober-living facility on Richhill Street in Waynesburg, is one of the only sober-living facilities for women in the county, but it hasn’t been at full capacity since it opened in January because of restrictions on women’s children living there, too.
“Another challenge to women with children seeking treatment is that halfway house availability for this particular population is extremely limited,” she said. “Getting women directly into an inpatient treatment facility could result in premature discharges should we not address caregiving responsibilities.”
Peggi Fawcett, executive director of Transitional Employment Consultants, spoke to the importance of employment for addicts in recovery.
“We all benefit when individuals in recovery from substance abuse secure and maintain employment because they become contributing members of the community,” she said. “This results in a reduction in unemployment, reduction in incarceration, less reliance upon public entitlement programs, and an increase in tax revenues for the community.”