Sto-Rox Opioid Crisis Summit spreads message of hope


By Sonja Reis | MRCD

“Where there is light there is hope,” said Cindy Haines, executive director, Focus On Renewal (F.O.R.), during the Jan. 31 Sto-Rox Opioid Crisis Summit.

The packed event sponsored by Ohio Valley Hospital and coordinated by F.O.R., its Sto-Rox Community Resource Center (C.R.C.) and a host of other community providers drew more than 150.

“As a community, we must come together if we want to mitigate the impact of opioids in our neighborhoods, schools and homes. No one group or organization can solve this issue on their own. We have to pool local resources and assets, to ensure we’re working together to answer this complex problem. This scourge has devastated communities throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania and across America,” Haines said.

Statistics from 2017 had Ohio Valley Hospital’s ambulance arm NorthWest EMS responding to 628 overdose-related issues in the 13 communities it serves. Additionally, 233 doses of the opioid reversing drug Narcan were administered, said Eric Lawlor, executive vice president and COO at Ohio Valley Hospital.

Headquartered in Stowe Township, NorthWest serves Stowe, McKees Rocks, Kennedy, Bellevue, Avalon, Ben Avon, Ben Avon Heights, Emsworth, Kilbuck Township, Crafton, North Fayette, Oakdale and Findlay.

Created as a follow up to the Heroin and Opiate Community Awareness Town Hall Meeting held April 2017 in McKees Rocks by Rep. Anita Kulik, Rep. Dan Deasy and Sen. Wayne Fontana, the summit presented options to those affected.

Before breaking into smaller groups for private community conversation, those gathered listened to testimonies and input from members of a “Hope” panel.

“We’re here for a message of hope, but I think sometimes you have to hear things both ways,” said Michele Schwartzmier of Ross Township. Schwartzmier lost her daughter Casey to addiction. Casey was 20 when she died of an accidental heroin overdose on January 15, 2017. She had been scheduled to enter rehab the following day.   

“Casey never wanted to be defined only by her addiction and mistakes, she was so much more than that. She made it clear if she was to ever pass as a result of it she wanted people to know the truth with the hope that honesty about her death could help break the stigma about addicts, and get people talking about the problem of addiction that is taking away so many young lives,” wrote Schwartzmier in the “honest obituary”  published at Casey’s request.

Casey’s was one of the 654 reported overdose deaths for 2017 in Allegheny County.

Her story went viral.

Casey’s death, according to Schwartzmier, was “not any more special than any of the [estimated] 62,000 who died of an overdose last year” in the U.S.

“We need to start focusing on new numbers, 60-days clean, 90-days clean. Those are numbers, too,” she said.

While rehabilitation is important, education also plays a major role in finding a solution to this epidemic.

“Recovery can lead you to a life,” said Paul Lee, former C.R.C. coordinator, who has been clean 13 years. “The recovery process is very difficult you have to have a lot of courage to stay here.”

In the month prior to the summit, 12 people had gained admittance to a rehab center through the C.R.C. and its contacts.  

“We can’t arrest our way out of the problem. We can’t legislate our way out of the problem,” said Kelly Wesolosky, F.B.I. community outreach specialist with the Pittsburgh field office.

“We need to educate and get those that are affected real help.”

To that end, more than 35 agencies including North Hills Community Outreach, C.A.S.H. Club, Resolve Crisis Services, Sto-Rox Neighborhood Health Council, Pressley Ridge, Pittsburgh Mercy, Chartiers Center, A Child’s Place and White Deer Run Treatment Network offered guidance and educational outreach during the summit.

Outreach continues.

After the summit, the Ryan Arts Center in McKees Rocks screened the opioid addiction-related documentaries Eye of the Needle (filmed in Pittsburgh) and Chasing the Dragon.

For information or a helping hand, reach out to the Sto-Rox Community Resource Center, a place you can thrive, at 412-331-1685 x 230 or online at