REALITY OF ADDICTION; Greensburg Attorney Vince Quatrini Thought His Community Could Benefit from Drug Prevention. Ten Years Later, the Reality Tour He Brought to the Courthouse Is Still Going Strong. [Derived Headline]

By Signorini, Renatta | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 10, 2017 | Go to article overview

REALITY OF ADDICTION; Greensburg Attorney Vince Quatrini Thought His Community Could Benefit from Drug Prevention. Ten Years Later, the Reality Tour He Brought to the Courthouse Is Still Going Strong. [Derived Headline]


Signorini, Renatta, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Greensburg attorney Vince Quatrini thought his community could benefit from drug prevention. Ten years later, the Reality Tour he brought to the courthouse is still going strong.

"I was impressed by the concept," Quatrini said. "It was so simple and yet so effective to me."

He pulled together members of various Westmoreland County agencies and groups who continue to volunteer monthly in an effort to educate area families about drugs and alcohol.

"I have been touched in my family by drug and alcohol addiction," he said. "To know that I've contributed something to the fight against that makes me feel like I'm doing God's work."

Since February 2007, hundreds of children age 10 and older and their parents or guardians have watched a mock drug arrest in the Westmoreland County Courthouse parking garage and paid their respects inside to an overdose victim at a pretend funeral. The staying power of Greensburg's Reality Tour means that area families have been equipped with tools and information about how to keep the tight grasp of drugs out of their homes.

The drug scene has changed dramatically over the last decade.

In 2007, 50 people died locally of a drug overdose, according to county coroner statistics. Of those, 24 deaths were heroin-related.

Those numbers have more than tripled.

In 2016, 162 people died from a drug overdose, with nine more cases still under investigation. Of those, 92 deaths were heroin-related, according to the coroner.

Organizers have tweaked their message over the years in response to the changing landscape, said Norma Norris, executive director of Candle, Inc. and Reality Tour developer. Two of the more prominent examples are with prescription drug abuse and synthetic drugs, such as bath salts and K2.

"Designer drugs were almost unheard of when we started this," Norris said. "We still understood it as something that was happening in our society, but now we have an emphasis on designer drugs."

Harrold Middle School Principal Jason Lochner thinks more needs to be done to help students understand the reality of the current opioid epidemic, "to make the issue not so abstract to them."

In Pennsylvania, 3,264 people died from drug overdoses in 2015, according to the most recent data available from the Centers for Disease Control, an increase of more than 500 deaths from the previous year.

"It's an absolute real-life problem," Lochner said.

Fill the seats

The Greensburg Reality Tour had the highest participation of all locations in 2016 with 410 attendees, according to Candle, the Butler County-based nonprofit that created the tour. Eleven counties in Pennsylvania have at least one Reality Tour location. Westmoreland County has the most, with tours in Belle Vernon, Latrobe, Norwin, Greensburg, Mt. Pleasant and Murrysville. Nearly 1,400 people attended the county's six tours last year.

"It's our best example of Reality Tour operating within a county," Norris said.

School districts, including Hempfield Area, have been great partners to fill the seats. But Lochner thinks the participation rate could be higher.

"I'm actually disappointed that more parents don't go," he said. Tours begin with a narrated scenario in which a teenager talks about drug experimentation and the consequences, which turn fatal. There are arrests and scenes at hospitals and funerals. Afterward, children work with parents to set prevention goals. …

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