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Students, Community Officials Hope To Address Tough Topic Of Opioids At Town Hall Meeting

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ROSS TOWNSHIP (KDKA) -- Everyone knows that the opioid epidemic has hit western Pennsylvania hard, but some think that even though we talk about it a lot, people aren't really talking.

That's why student and adult leaders at North Hills High School are teaming with Ross Township police, West View police and District Justice Richard Opiela to present a Town Meeting, "The Opioid Epidemic," on Monday, March 19 at 7 p.m. at the North Hills Middle School in Ross Township.

The high school's "Students Against Destructive Decisions" or SADD chapter is helping to organize and host the meeting.

Drug and alcohol use is "happening in the North Hills. It's not just a city issue," SADD chapter Secretary Margaret Donley told KDKA-TV.

Chapter Vice-President Angelina Lazzara agrees. She says she's seen it.

"Before and around dances people will do stuff and they'll come high as a kite and think it's so fun. It's just ridiculous that they can't have fun without getting high," said Lazzara.

The students and their mentors are hoping that the whole community will come to the town hall to talk about the dangers of drug abuse, how insidious drugs can be, and how the problem of drug abuse can affect anyone from any community or any family.

"A lot of times when you bring up drugs, it's something nobody wants to talk about, and say, 'that's not me. I don't want to talk about it,'" said chapter Public Relations Chair Lexie Mandell said.

School counselor Liz Cleary agrees. She says nothing is more dangerous than ignoring or not talking openly about the problem and how to prevent it.

"We've gotta talk about what's going on," said Cleary. "It's been one of those things that it's everywhere and it's time for everyone to start talking about the solutions."

Opiela says he's seen a sharp increase in burglary and theft cases involving addicts desperate for money to buy drugs.

"You'll find that probably between 70 and 80 percent of people in our jails or courtrooms are drug addicted in some fashion," said Opiela.

At least 80 people who live in the school district have died of overdoses in the past decade, something that doesn't surprise him.

"It's overwhelmed the legal system quite frankly," he said.

The town hall meeting is open to anyone in the North Hills School District, not just students and parents. People outside of the district are welcome as well. Doors will open and informational tables from local support and resource organizations will be available starting at 6:30 p.m. A speaker series with rotating breakout sessions will begin at 7 p.m. Following the speaker series, attendees are welcome to stay for an informal question and answer session with light refreshments at 9 p.m.

In addition to Opiela, the Ross and West View police chiefs will speak, along with officials from the local DEA and Attorney General's office. Dr. Tom Brophy, an emergency room doctor who specializes in addiction treatment, will provide the keynote address. He says he has only one goal every time he speaks at gatherings like this: to get through to high schoolers and their families about how easy it is to get hooked on drugs, in hopes of saving lives.

"One of my ambitions is to kind of connect the dots for the youth, so when they go off to college and somebody has Vicodin or Percocet, they make a much more informed decision," said Brophy.

Following the speakers, there will be a question and answer session with light refreshments. SADD and National Honor Society members will provide free child care.

Click here for more information or to sign up for child care:

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