Pubdate: Fri, 10 Jul 2015
Source: Tribune Review (Pittsburgh, PA)
Copyright: 2015 Tribune-Review Publishing Co.
Author: Bob Bauder


Gus DiRenna's addiction started with marijuana and beer in high

He was popping pills at 18 and selling drugs between jail stints in
his 20s and 30s. By age 40, the Whitehall resident was shooting heroin.

DiRenna, 56, clean since 2010, said his story is common in what health
officials describe as a drug epidemic sweeping America.

"I've seen this change with the young adults in our city becoming
addicted," said DiRenna, who was among experts discussing the issue
Thursday during a special meeting of Pittsburgh City Council hosted by
Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak of Carrick.

"I talk to a lot of young people, and they tell me it's harder to get
a pack of cigarettes than it is to get heroin," he said. "They have to
show ID to buy cigarettes."

Allegheny County Medical Examiner Karl Williams said heroin mixed with
fentanyl is a leading cause of overdose deaths in the county.

"They're selling it as heroin, but coming through the lab now we're
seeing a mix of heroin and fentanyl," he said.

Allegheny County has experienced a 200 percent increase in drug
overdose fatalities over the past 15 years, according to Health
Department Director Karen Hacker.

Overdoses killed 307 people last year, up from 109 in 2000. More than
half of the 2014 cases involved heroin. About 86 percent of the 2014
victims were white; 68 percent were men.

"This is, by and large, a white male issue that we're dealing with
right now," Hacker said.

She said heroin use in the United States started to increase around
the time potent opiates such as oxycodone hit the market about 20
years ago. Oxycodone is highly addictive, she said, and many addicts
eventually turn to heroin.

"We began to see this transition from prescription pain killers to
(heroin)," she said. "I hate to say it, but heroin is a very cheap

Defining the problem is much easier than solving it, according to the

Councilman Dan Gilman said government should earmark more money for
education and human service programs that have been cut in recent years.

"It's going to take a lot of money, and it's going to take tough
choices in government to solve it," he said.

Representatives from Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Beaver County
and Oakland-based Prevention Point Pittsburgh outlined rehab and
social programs they offer for addicts. They said Narcan, which
reverses drug overdoses, should be available to give addicts a chance
at being sober.

Councilman Bruce Kraus of South Side, a recovering alcoholic, said
rehab won't work unless an addict wants to get clean.

"That's the key," he said. "How does one get well who does not desire
to get well?"
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