Following the recent rash of deaths linked to heroin laced with fentanyl, the Pennsylvania Alliance for Safe and Drug-Free Children is holding a town hall Thursday night geared toward parents.
There have been 14 deaths in Allegheny County linked to the drug, with more in surrounding counties. This, along with the high-profile death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman from a suspected heroin overdose, is prompting the organization to reach out to those close to people who may be vulnerable to drug addiction, particularly youth.
“Prevention is certainly our mission and our main objective,” said alliance Executive Director Debra Kehoe, “but early intervention, to trust your gut and get help sooner as opposed to waiting until much later. The way the drugs are today, and as powerful as they are, it takes no time at all for someone to become addicted to them.”
The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said alcohol and other drug use among the nation’s youth remains a major health problem; substance use and abuse can increase the risk for injuries, violence, HIV infection and other diseases.
The town hall in Ross Township will include representatives from law enforcement, the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office, school counselors, medical professionals and others. Among the topics will be warning signs to keep an eye on in children.
“We tell parents the bedroom should never be considered off limits, you should always be in and out of that bedroom, you should be looking for things that just don’t make sense; always trust your gut,” said Kehoe. “Nobody knows your child better than you do and when your child changes you know your child changes and you need to find out why.”
Kehoe said many kids start experimenting with drugs around the age of 10 or 11, and added it’s never too early for parents to emphasize that drug use is unacceptable behavior. She said one thing that makes it even more challenging for parents is the availability of substances beyond alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and other street drugs such as heroin.
“There’s the synthetic issue now, there’s over the counter, and kids with technology today – they’re constantly looking online for other ways to get high,” said Kehoe, “of using substances that they don’t have to go out and buy from a dealer or steal from a medicine cabinet.”
The Alliance for Safe and Drug-Free Children works with school districts and businesses in the region, and will hold additional town hall meetings on the topic of prevention and intervention in the coming months.
The Thursday Town Hall will take place from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at North Hills Middle School in Ross Township.