South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Austin Vaught
Contributing Writer 

Opioid crisis draws crowd to Carrick for answers to epidemic


November 14, 2017

A new coalition staffed with multiple city and health officials introduced strategies for reining in the opioid problem at one of the most well-attended Carrick block watch meetings in recent months.

More than 100 neighbors filled the Concord K5 auditorium last Monday, less than a week after a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette series titled “Riding OD Road” shined a city-wide spotlight on Carrick’s opioid problem and labeled the neighborhood the “Overdose Capital of the Region.”

“I see a bigger crowd than usual,” Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak said. “I think we can all surmise why that is.”

The councilwoman opened the meeting by introducing the newly formed South Pittsburgh Opioid Action Coalition (SPOAC); an organization consisting of several city officials, former addicts, and members of the Program Evaluation Research Unit (PERU) at the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy.

SPOAC’s new initiative is to implement a community-wide Post-Overdose Response Team (PORT) to provide assistance to opioid users after an overdose occurs.

The program will pair a community paramedic and a certified “peer recovery specialist,” or an individual who was previously in recovery. The two will work together to guide a person in need toward resources such as treatment facilities, primary care physicians, or needle exchange programs.

“I think it’s easier to find a rating for a good hamburger in the city of Pittsburgh than it is to find a good treatment facility,” the councilwoman said.

The councilwoman said the organization is expecting to hear back in regards to a $150,000 state grant that would be used to fund the program.

SPOAC will also be hosting a December 14 event titled “Coming Together to end the Epidemic.” The event will provide resources to anyone impacted by the opioid epidemic and will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Tree of Life Open Bible Church at 1036 Brookline Boulevard.

In addition to the councilwoman’s office and PERU, several other SPOAC members addressed the local opioid problem including Zone 3 police commander Karen Dixon; Aaron Arnold, executive director at Prevention Point Pittsburgh; Cynthia Falls, board member at Pittsburgh Public Schools; and, Laura Drogowski from the Mayor’s Office.

“This past weekend, we had two fatal [overdoses] and three non-fatals,” Commander Dixon told the audience. “That’s what I’m seeing every day. When they approached me about getting involved, I thought let’s try anything at this point.”

Other efforts of the SPOAC initiative will be heavily focused on education and awareness, and expanding addiction education programs in South Pittsburgh schools.

“Much of this has to deal with education,” Ms. Falls said. “We hope to be able to start with Brashear and Carrick high schools. This is something that all of our kids, all ages, need to be aware of.”

A resident in attendance asked how many people SPOAC realistically intends to help in the coming year. Lynn Mirigian, who oversees the PA Opioid Overdose Reduction Technical Assistance Center (TAC) at the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy said she is aiming high with expectations.

“SPOAC’s mission is to touch every single person in and out of Pittsburgh where opioid help is needed,” Ms. Mirigian said. “There are counties across the country who have done this, so it’s not impossible.”

Ashley Potts, a SPOAC member and social worker at Allegheny General Hospital, gave a 15-minute presentation in which she suggested the key to success is to avoid stigmas and labels associated with drug addiction as they often elicit feelings of guilt and shame that might lead to a relapse and continued addiction.

“We need to come together as a coalition and work together to allow people the opportunity back into society,” Ms. Potts said.

Multiple residents raised concerns that despite SPOAC, local politicians and police still are not doing enough to curb the addiction issue in Carrick. Councilman Bruce Kraus responded that the current epidemic has been years in the making and local officials “inherited this at the bottom of the food chain.”

The councilman introduced state Representative Harry Readshaw, who discussed how the epidemic is being handled at a state-level. Mr. Readshaw said Governor Tom Wolf has put extensive funds into the budget to fight addiction within the state but it’s “obviously not enough.”

He also added there is pending legislation that will address pharmaceutical problems, help addicts, and continue to crack down on doctors for overprescribing opioids.

Last week’s block watch attendance doubled that of the previous few months and organizer Carol Anthony urged residents’ participation at future meetings.

“If you want to see a difference in the community, you can’t show up to these meetings only when Carrick makes the newspaper,” Ms. Anthony said.

The next Carrick/Overbrook Crime Watch meeting will be December 4 at 7 p.m. in Concord K5 gymnasium.


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