PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — At the Onala Club in Pittsburgh’s West End, alcoholics and drug addicts meet about their common problem of addiction and strive to overcome it.
But the opioid crisis is claiming more and more of their lives.
Those who have died from fatal overdoses are memorialized on a whiteboard, but director Joe Panzino says it represents only a fraction of the fallen.
“We would need a board many times this size to capture the number… the real numbers of what’s happening here,” he said.
In Allegheny County in 2015, 421 people died from fatal ODs, more than homicides, suicides and motor vehicle accidents combined.
But the crisis is shows no signs of abating and this past year’s numbers will be even higher. The final toll won’t be available for another six weeks, but Allegheny County Medical Examiner Dr. Karl Williams projects that about 500 people will have died from drug overdoses in 2016.
KDKA’s Andy Sheehan: “And it’s getting worse?”
Dr. Williams: “It is still getting worse, yes. We have not seen the peak of the crisis. We haven’t seen any evidence so far that it’s even leveling off.”
The epidemic has taken the lives of addicts like Kevin Meininger who died in August of a heroin overdose. It has upended the lives of their families forever.
“He was my baby. We were very close. Just having him gone, it’s too hard,” said Maureen Hendershot, Kevin’s mom.
Hendershot says Kevin made several tries at beating his addiction, but addicts says that heroin is readily available in towns throughout the region and pull is often too great.
“He was in three or four different rehabs. Did good once he got out and came back home to Pitcairn, right back, right back,” said Hendershot.
The number of deaths has quadrupled over the past decade and toll would be even greater if not for the reversal drug, Narcan. Paramedics and other first responders are retrieving overdose victims from death door every day.
Panzino hopes more will heed the wakeup call.
“Because recovery is possible, it is, without a doubt. Recovery is possible here in any situation,” said Panzino. “We just don’t know which ones can make it and which ones don’t.”