Pubdate: Mon, 13 Jul 2015
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)
Copyright: 2015 PG Publishing Co., Inc.
Author: Julian Routh


The small community of Apollo - with a population of just over 1,600 -
has a big drug problem that it's trying to shake.

Local officials say the Armstrong County borough in the Kiskiminetas
River valley has been plagued by a culture of drug use in recent
years. As a result, it has seen an increase in drug-overdose deaths, a
pair of drive-by shootings, an increase in robberies and a state
police raid in February that uncovered a large-scale heroin ring.

But Apollo residents and local officials have started a "raid" of
their own: Residents Against Illicit Drugs, an organization that aims
to rid the community of drugs.

The group was assembled this year by Apollo Mayor Jeff Held, who said
he noticed what he believed to be increased amounts of drug activity
on the streets before he took office in January 2014.

Near his home, Mr. Held said, he would often see people visiting known
drug houses at all hours of the night. He lived one block from where
authorities raided a fully functional methamphetamine lab in 2011.

"A lot of people don't believe a small town like Apollo has a drug
problem," he said. "When I took office, I focused on preparing
ourselves to counter the tide."

RAID resulted from a community meeting in February, a day before state
police found more than 16,000 stamp bags of heroin, 2 kilograms of
cocaine, marijuana, crack cocaine and three guns at an Apollo apartment.

The anti-drug organization comprises about 50 local and county
officials, community members, counselors, police officers and
treatment experts who meet monthly to discuss RAID's three-pronged
approach of education, awareness and support.

RAID members recently began going door to door to educate the
community on the dangers of drug use.

"We're trying to educate, educate, educate, but we're still fighting a
battle," said Armstrong County Coroner Brian Myers. "We want to win
the war, but that's going to be tough to do."

A former iron and steel town, Apollo is lined with streets of
single-family houses - most of which were built in 1939 or earlier -
that surround a central shopping plaza. About 94 percent of residents
are white, with a median age of 33, according to the most recent
census data.

This year, 13 people in Armstrong have died of drug overdoses, with
five other cases pending toxicology results. Mr. Myers said that
number is on pace to surpass 30 by the end of the year, almost twice
as many as in 2014.

The numbers show that the drug problem is countywide, Mr. Myers

"There's not one neighborhood or one ZIP code that's excluded from
this issue," he said.

Some officials in Apollo, including Mr. Held, said they believe drugs
are entering from beyond the community's borders, especially from
Westmoreland County to the south.

Confirmed overdose deaths in Westmoreland are also expected to surpass
last year's record number of 87 by the end of the year, according to
its coroner's office.

The county has recorded 41 confirmed overdoses this year to date, 16
of which were heroin related. There are 27 suspected overdoses,
pending toxicology results.

"We figure that because we're the gateway to Armstrong County [from
Westmoreland] ... we're seeing lots of drugs coming through town,"
said Diane Bradshaw, who heads the Apollo council's public safety committee.

But where the drugs come from doesn't matter much to one lifelong
Apollo resident, who said he is scared for the youth in the town.

"There's just such fear in the community," said the man, who asked
that his name not be used because he has to live in the town. "It's
just as bad as it's been for the past 10 years. It hasn't gotten any

Mr. Held said small improvements have occurred since RAID assembled,
including the fact that some smaller marijuana and heroin dealers have
"folded up and left town."

The Apollo police department plans to install security cameras
throughout North Plaza - the main shopping center - to prevent
robberies, said Mr. Held, who oversees the department of one full-time
officer and five part-time officers.

RAID is another step toward a drug-free Apollo in an effort by those
who believe it can be a quaint, close-knit neighborhood.

"The drug problem doesn't show that we're a bad town," the mayor said.
"But we need to be vigilant and clean it up."
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