Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

When Chico Ficerai’s son admitted he was addicted to heroin, she turned to her church. The prayer and support helped, but she needed more guidance.

Courtesy UPMC

More than 400 people died from drug overdoses in Allegheny County last year. According to the Health Department, many of them were due to opioids, specifically heroin.

As public health officials continue to battle the opioid epidemic, health care professionals are looking for new ways to help patients transition from drug addiction to recovery.

Twice a day, Angela and Nate Turner of Greenwood, Ind., put tiny strips that look like tinted tape under their tongues.

"They taste disgusting," Angela says.

But the taste is worth it to her. The dissolvable strips are actually a drug called Suboxone, which helps control an opioid user's cravings for the drug. The married couple both got addicted to prescription painkillers following injuries several years ago, and they decided to go into recovery this year. With Suboxone, they don't have to worry about how they'll get drugs, or how sick they'll feel if they don't.

Flickr user Shaine Hatch

The state of Pennsylvania and University of Pittsburgh announced a new partnership aimed at helping stem the tide of opioid addiction, county by county.

“It doesn’t matter where you go in the commonwealth, in southwestern PA, in urban PA, rural Pennsylvania and suburban Pennsylvania. It doesn’t matter what you look like or what zip code you come from, too many lives are being taken by heroin and opioids,” said Josh Shapiro, head of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, which is funding the new center.

Spilled pill bottle
Charles Williams / Flickr

Pennsylvania is experiencing an overdose epidemic.

Allegheny County alone has seen its number fatal drug overdoses nearly double over the past five years, from 227 in 2010 to 409 in 2015. Neighboring West Virginia, where more than 35 residents out of every 100,000 died of drug overdoses in 2014, is home to the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the country.     

Flickr user Rob Boudon

The operators of southwestern Pennsylvania’s two casinos have both been fined by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control board.

Washington Trotting Association, which operates the Meadows Casino in Washington County, was fined $40,000 after allowing two men who have placed themselves on the state’s self-exclusion list to access the casino and gamble at table games and slot machines.

Doug Harbach is communications director of the Gaming Control Board and said more than 9,700 people have placed themselves on the self-exclusion list.

Charles Williams / Flickr

While much of the testimony at a state Senate hearing in Pittsburgh on Thursday focused on the need for the state to fund opioid addiction treatment regimens, one expert recommended the state take legal action against insurers who illegally deny coverage of long-term rehabilitation programs for those addicted to heroin or prescription painkillers.

Pittsburgh's location as a drug-trafficking corridor warranted the city's inclusion into a federal initiative aiming to stymie the nation's opiate epidemic.

“360 Strategy” coordinates federal agents, local officers and community groups into a three-fold approach, said Gary Tuggle, Special Agent in Charge for the Philadelphia Division for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. 

Genetics And Environment Big Influences For Drug Addicts

Nov 10, 2015
Charles Williams / flickr

According to our guest heroin addiction is a desperation issue. Some addicts are seeking an inexpensive way to treat their pain. So, what does it take for someone addicted to heroin and other opiates to get treatment? We’ll pose that question to our guest Sarah Younger, a drug and alcohol counselor.

gackmc / flickr

Heroin related deaths in the U.S. have tripled from 2010 to 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Overdoses are now the leading cause of death for people 24 to 44 in Western Pennsylvania, mainly in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, showing that heroin use is no longer just an inner-city problem. Data from the University of Pittsburgh underscore the demographic shift: 65% percent of people dying from heroin overdoses in the Pittsburgh region are men (35% women), most are white, and their ages range from teens up to the early 70s. 

Sam Quinones, author of Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic, says the problem originates not from street gangs and drug trafficking, but in suburban medicine cabinets.

AP Photo/Mel Evans

Kate is 25 and began drinking, smoking and experimenting with prescription drugs when she was a teenager in Washington County.

“I started doing pills in high school, 15, I think. Something just happened in high school and I just was, you know, curious and then it just turned into doing it too much."

Connor Mulvaney / PublicSource


  WESA’s content partner Public Source has been running a series of articles on the number of drug uses and overdoses in Pennsylvania.  The latest story explores the stigma professionals in the workplace face when confronting addiction.  Joining us to discuss the issue are Public Source reporter Jeffrey Benzing and Jason Snyder, executive director of the Consumer Health Coalition.

The Economic Costs of Addiction

Feb 11, 2015 / Flickr

How do you address the growing trend of addiction in the workplace? How does it impact employers and co-workers? We pose those questions to Rosa Davis, executive director of POWER, a Pittsburgh-based organization helping women in recovery.

According to Davis, when workers struggle with addiction it can have a large impact on the company's bottom line.

"In addition to the human cost, there's a huge economic cost," she says. 

Davis advises employers to be as non-judgmental and as objective as possible. 

Punchy Judy / Flickr

In 2014, heroin addiction and overdose deaths became an epidemic across the country, across the state of Pennsylvania and especially in Allegheny County.

Dr. Neil Capretto, Medical Director of Gateway Rehabilitation Center says the high rate of overdoses in southwest PA can be tied to use of prescription medicines, along with a blue collar and aging demographic.

"There was a need for pain medicines and doctor's started prescribing it and pharmaceutical companies started marketing to doctors heavily. And they were giving the message, 'This is safe, not addicting. Less than one percent of people who ever use Oxicodon ever have a problem.' That was the message from the companies. So there was a lot of prescription medicines, very heavy in our community. Then thousands of people in every town from Kittanning, to Downtown Pittsburgh, to Clarion, to Washington PA got hooked onto prescription medicines, and that led to the heroine problem."

Capretto explains that as an addiction to legal prescription opiates develops, heroin emerges as a cheaper alternative, once refills run out. But addiction is not simply about the relief of physical pain.

Capretto says he considers addiction to be a biological, psychological, social, and even spiritual disease. 

"Opioids are very good at stopping and blocking pain; physical pain, emotional pain, psychic pain... I've talked with thousands of people with addiction over the years and I never met one who started using any drug because they wanted to intentionally add more problems to their life on purpose. They're trying to solve some problem, block some pain." 

A Coordinated Effort to Cover the Complexities of Heroin Addiction

As news of the increasing number of heroin overdoses has made headlines throughout Pennsylvania, newsrooms are making a coordinated effort to cover the most important angles of this public health crisis.

Sharon Walsh, editor of the investigative journalism organization PublicSource, has been compiling the work of PA media outlets that have been reporting on the heroin problem.

Shattered Image: A Story of Struggle and Recovery

Sep 8, 2014
Brian Cuban

Bulimia is often thought of as a woman’s disorder. However, men can suffer from it as well. In his memoir Shattered Image, our guest Brian Cuban chronicles his battles with Body Dysmorphic Disorder as well as his addictions to alcohol, cocaine and steroids. He joins us in Studio A to discuss his struggles and recovery.

Shatterproof Aims to Find Better Treatment for Addiction

Jun 24, 2014
Zachary Tristan / Shatterproof

The loss of a child is difficult for any parent. Losing a child to drugs or alcohol addiction can sometimes leave a parent wondering if they could have done more to save their child. For Gary Mendell, the loss of his son inspired him to create an organization called Shatterproof.

The organization is committed to protecting children from drugs as well as overcoming the stigmas associated with addiction. Mendell described his son, Bryan, as “what every father could ask for and more.” When he tried marijuana for the first time a year before high school, he became addicted.

Christopher Kennedy Lawford

New York Times Best selling Author, Activist, and Actor Christopher Kennedy Lawford  chronicled his battle with near-fatal drug and alcohol addiction in the memoir Symptoms of Withdrawal. We'll talk with him about his latest book RECOVER TO LIVE: Kick Any Habit, Manage Any Addiction and his journey back to sobriety.