Phillip Little, education and outreach specialist for the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office, called heroin “an equal opportunity destroyer” at a community discussion about heroin Thursday, and sounded the alarm about the surge in heroin overdose deaths and addiction.
The Community Conversation on Heroin Abuse at Burgettstown High School brought together members of the attorney general’s office, local law enforcement officers, school administrators and the Washington County Drug and Alcohol Association to raise awareness about the increase in heroin abuse in Washington County, and to discuss program and strategies to address the problem at a local level.
Also attending were recovering heroin addicts and parents of children currently battling heroin addiction, who unexpectedly share their stories and the devastating impact heroin has had on their lives.
The discussion came on the heels of a series of deaths in Western Pennsylvania from batches heroin laced with the synthetic prescription painkiller fentanyl.
Little called on parents to talk with their children about the devastating consequences of using heroin and addressed how alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs serve as a gateway to heroin use.
“We need to educate them and have these conversations,” said Little. “Is it an easy conversation to have? Probably not, but the worst thing you can do is bury your head in the sand and think, ‘Not my child.’”
Also participating in the discussion was Cheryl Andrews, head of the Washington County Drug and Alcohol Association, who talked about the need for first responders, police officers and family members of addicts in treatment to have access to the drug naloxone, which counters the effect of heroin overdose; the importance of a Good Samaritan Law, which would enable a person to notify emergency personnel if someone overdoses without repercussions; and the need for legislation regarding prescription pill monitoring.
“People can and do recover and that’s a very exciting thing. That is why we are here,” said Andrews.
Local police officers encouraged people to contact police if they see or suspect drug activity and said they can notify police anonymously.
The symposium was organized by Rep. Jesse White, who said he received numerous calls and emails from constituents who are frustrated, confused and scared about the impact of heroin use.
For White, the issue is personal. His sister, Nikki, a drug and alcohol counselor, is a recovering heroin addict, and she talked about her long battle to get clean.
One mother who attended talked about the toll her 22-year-old daughter’s nearly four-year heroin addiction has taken.
“It’s an every day battle with my child and myself. It consumes every moment of every day,” she said. “I hate the drug. I worry about her dying, but in a way, right now she’s already gone. It’s turned her into a person that I don’t even know.”
Also attending was a 27-year-old recovering heroin addict named Gary, a graduate of Burgettstown High School.
“My parent raised me well, it was a choice I made. By God’s grace, I’ve been nearly three years clean,” he said. “It takes control of your entire life – your body, your spirit, your mind. There are days I still want to use. It’s probably going to be that way for the rest of my life.”