Prosecutor presents panel to fight opiate addictions, overdoses

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A group of people from the business, medical, governmental, religious and nonprofit communities has convened to take on the opiate overdose epidemic, U.S. attorney David Hickton announced Thursday.

Neil A. Capretto, medical director at Gateway Rehabilitation Center who will co-chair the effort, said the group includes "a lot of people who have the ability to make things happen.

"We all agree that it's worth the effort, and to do nothing is not acceptable."

In January, the region saw around two dozen deaths attributed to heroin laced with fentanyl. A federal criminal trial that ended last week focused largely on the 2012 death of Chris Radford, 23, allegedly following ingestion of Opana.

"We cannot prosecute our way out of the problem of opioid addiction," Mr. Hickton said in a news release. "We need to better address the demand side of the problem by being more attentive to and understanding of addiction, treatment and recovery."

Dubbed the Working Group on Addiction: Prevention, Intervention, Treatment and Recovery, the 18-member group first met April 7 and created subcommittees on community outreach, treatment and safety.

Dr. Capretto said at the very least, the panel might help to make more people in the community aware of the services available.

"A lot of times treatment gets fragmented," he said. "There's just not enough education of emergency rooms and hospitals to recognize the problem of addition and what to do about it.

"We treat it like it's a short-term condition, like pneumonia," he said. Someone in an emergency room in Pittsburgh, treating an overdose, might not realize that there are beds available at rehabilitation facilities, he said.

The group may also look at gaps in state laws over the next few months.

"There'll be more people talking with each other," Dr. Capretto said.

The group is co-chaired by clinical psychologist Michael Flaherty. It includes James Rohr of PNC Financial Services Group, representatives of the University of Pittsburgh, UPMC, Allegheny County, the Bidwell Presbyterian Church, the Buhl Foundation, and advocacy groups including Sage's Army, the Pennsylvania Alliance for Safe and Drug Free Children, the Jade Wellness Center, the Veterans Administration and several behavioral health organizations.

Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1542 or on Twitter @richelord.


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