CARRICK (KDKA) – They say they are two unlikely allies, a pastor and a former construction worker, but their faith binds them together and so does their broken past.
The two joined forces together to set up a safe area where addicts can exchange used needles for clean ones. Residents at the proposed location circulated a petition and presented hundreds of signatures to city council to halt the program.
“I’m an ex-heroin addict, I’m still an addict, but I don’t use heroin anymore,” said Gus DiRenna, the director of Allegheny Recovery Krew.
“I was a Catholic priest and I saw the mills closing and I was drinking in excess,” said Fr. Jay Giesler, a pastor at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. “I said this isn’t the way I’m supposed to be living my life, so I got sober.”
Their broken past and subsequent healing from alcohol and drugs put them in a position to understand and to help in a neighborhood that needs it.
“The epicenter is Carrick, but it goes all the way down to Brownsville Road,” said Fr. Geisler.
The county’s death statistics from overdoses in Carrick and Mt. Oliver alone are staggering. The men are in support of a clean needle exchange program down Brownsville Road in the United Methodist Church parking lot in Carrick.
The evidence-based reduction program reduced infection and the spread of HIV and Hepatitis.
“This keeps people alive long enough that they can recover,” said Fr. Geisler.
Although most of the hundreds of people who have signed the petition presented to city council are for the harm reduction effects of a clean needle exchange, like Prevention Point, they just do not want it at this location.
Resident Jim Boland said he has had addiction in his own family, but does not think the location is the best choice.
“We are opposing the venue, we are not opposing the program,” said Boland. “Please just move the venue, we have children who walk through here.”
But for those who have fought back against addiction, they say it’s important for those fighting the battle daily to be in constant contact with those in recovery like DiRenna and Fr. Geisler.
“Let’s try it for three months and if it’s causing any problems that gives us three months to look for another location, but people are dying in the meantime,” said Fr. Geisler.
There has not been an announcement about whether the program will be started.