Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

A Call to Heal, Not Punish Overdose Awareness Day Reverberates in Pittsburgh

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

A Call to Heal, Not Punish Overdose Awareness Day Reverberates in Pittsburgh

Article excerpt

Marla Mastermonico Conley, one of the organizers of the Fed Up rally in Market Square, was placing addiction awareness literature on a table Monday evening when she was approached by a Downtown businessman. His name was "Scott" and he wanted to give her a hug.

"He started crying," said Ms. Conley of Penn Hills, whose son is a recovering heroin addict. "He said, 'Thank you so much for doing this.' I said, 'Scott, did you lose somebody?' And he said, 'Just myself.' "

Dozens of people, including Mayor Bill Peduto, gathered for the event to call attention to International Overdose Awareness Day, aimed at directing resources away from punishing addicts and into helping them.

"Stricter penalties need to be imposed on drug dealers," said Ms. Conley, who heads a local chapter of The Addict's Mom. "And we need more treatment facilities. A lot of these kids want help, but they can't get it because there's no treatment facilities available or they don't have insurance."

Other groups participating in the event were Message Carriers of Pennsylvania, Prevention Point Pittsburgh and Not One More. The volunteers, many of whom have friends and family members who are addicts, handed out pamphlets and sought signatures for a national petition. They also spoke out.

"We have to stop treating addicts like criminals," said Laura Propst, president of Not One More. "We have to shatter the stigma and get them the treatment they need. Right now, they're being sent back out into the streets where they're most vulnerable, and the pharmaceutical companies are making billions."

"I'm here to tell you and tell those that are suffering that it's a problem that we need to address," Mr. Peduto said. "There's nothing negative about it. It's simply something that, if we work together, and we change some rules . …

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