O’HARA TOWNSHIP (KDKA) — It’s a scourge that cuts across all income levels, ages and genders and it’s hitting very hard in many of our middle-class and upper-class communities.
KDKA Investigator Andy Sheehan spoke with one family who wants to turn their tragedy into a positive by warning other parents to the danger signs.
Strolling into their home in an affluent section of O’Hara Township, Ron and Judi Owen seem to live a charmed existence and it was until they learned their 23-year-old daughter Sarah had died of a heroin overdose.
“It’s horrible being told that your child is no longer here, that she is gone,” Judi said.
The death of child is every parent’s worst nightmare, but even as fatal drug overdoses have become more common in the suburbs than in the inner city, there still were those who stayed away from Sarah’s funeral.
“We had friends, we had neighbors that didn’t want to be involved,” Ron said. “They didn’t want to associate with us because we had a daughter who died of a drug overdose like it was something that we did wrong and that has to change.”
“This disease doesn’t discriminate,” Neil Capretto with Gateway Rehabilitation said.
With heroin cheap, powerful and readily available and prescription drug abuse out of control, fatal overdoses have become an epidemic across all of Allegheny County, jumping from 110 to 220 10 years ago and remaining alarmingly high – 236 in 2008, 223 in 2009 and 226 last year.
“Overdose deaths in Allegheny County are the leading cause of accidental death – more than traffic fatalities and homicides put together,” Capretto said.
And yet the problem remains largely hidden from view and ignored.
“This problem is across America — inner-city, suburban, farms, rural areas and unless people admit that this is a problem, we need to deal with it head-on,” Ron said.
Today as they care for Sarah’s daughter, Taylor, they’ve established an organization called R.O.S.E.S. From Sarah which benefits single mothers in recovery as it seeks to help parents recognize addiction and intervene.
“Sitting in the corner over there and crying every day and forgetting her and our daughter and our granddaughter doesn’t fix anything, Ron says, “but if we can change this landscape – it’s not going to happen tomorrow, but I really believe in our lifetime we can make a difference.”