Mt. Lebanon officials seek solution to heroin problem

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The tendency in a number of communities is to ignore reports of drug abuse, hoping they will vanish.

In Mt. Lebanon, some elected officials are making no secret about the presence of such problems locally, especially with regard to a certain highly addictive and potentially dangerous narcotic.

"Our community has a heroin problem," Mt. Lebanon school board member Jo Posti put it bluntly in reading a prepared statement at last week's meeting.

She said that in recent months, Medical Rescue Team South Authority, local police and firefighters have seen an increase in overdoses and crimes associated with the drug's use.

"Addiction often begins with legal prescription painkillers," she explained. "And when legal availability ceases, an inexpensive alternative is easily accessible: heroin."

Mrs. Posti and Mt. Lebanon Commissioner Kelly Fraasch started meeting recently as liaisons to their respective elected bodies, and among many issues for discussion in the municipality, the drug situation almost immediately came to the forefront.

"I said, 'Can we put all the other things aside and work on this?' " Mrs. Fraasch recalled. "It's both of our problems. Not to place the blame anywhere, but to come up with solutions that might make a difference. We're trying to do things together in a joint fashion to show the community at large, and we need to work together."

Their plan is to form a task force to confront the issue and seek solutions.

"Jo and I play the role of elected officials, but more importantly, we're mothers," said Mrs. Fraasch, who presented her own statement at Monday's commission meeting. "So we do plan next month to pull together experts from various departments and start anew: What worked before, what didn't work before. What are other communities doing? What does Mt. Lebanon need to do?"

She has requested the support of other commissioners and said she wants to invite District Judge Blaise Larotonda to a future meeting "to present his concerns and issues surrounding our community's drug use."

Mrs. Posti admitted there are no easy answers in tackling the heroin problem.

"Police and drug treatment administrators are equally frustrated," she said. "It's a drug that is not only being used by young people, but by men and women my age and older. It's inexpensive, accessible and is killing our neighbors.

"While the focus of this task force won't just be heroin," she continued, "this particular drug is one that Mrs. Fraasch and I want to eliminate from our community. Our shared goal is to send a message to the street that Mt. Lebanon is no longer open for business."

A young Mt. Lebanon resident's recent fatal overdose helped prompt the women to bring the matter to the forefront.

"In the past few months, I've been considering bringing this topic up, really thinking heavily about it," Mrs. Fraasch said. After learning of the overdose, her thought was: "Oh, my God, why am I waiting, when we are seeing people who not only are suffering through their addiction but losing their life over it?"

Many community members seem to agree with the efforts to address the problem openly and aggressively.

Since she posted about the topic on her blog and Mrs. Posti spoke at the school board meeting, Mrs. Fraasch has received more than 80 emails with messages of support and encouragement.

"The public's response has been very accepting and supportive," she said. "I don't think Jo and I could have ever imagined.

"Yes, this is a terrible topic to talk about," she added. "But I hope we'll start to see the positive outcomes of having these conversations."

neigh_south

Harry Funk, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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