By Sarah Kohl, M.D., Pediatric Alliance — Chartiers/McMurray Division




We are at the epicenter of an epidemic. And its time we do something about it.


Fact: Pennsylvania is one of the top states for deaths due to heroin overdoses. Addiction to narcotics cuts across all walks of life — moms, dads, grandparents, co-workers, teens; every person in our community is at risk.

Fact: Right now if you live in Pennsylvania you are more likely to die from a drug overdose than to be killed in a car accident. This is frightening!

Fact: We cannot arrest our way out of this crisis. It’s too big and too complex.


There are several things everyone can do about the heroin epidemic, according to the panel of experts who spoke to a packed auditorium at Peters Township Middle School on March 31st. Law enforcement will continue to hunt down and prosecute drug traffickers but it is up to us to help our communities solve this crisis.


How did this problem start?

Most addictions start with a trip to the doctor or ER for an accident or injury. People incorrectly assume that prescription pain medicines are safe and non-addicting. When over-prescribed they become addicted. Eventually they are unable to purchase pills and move on to a cheaper source: heroin.

Heroin kills by interfering with breathing. In an overdose it causes the user to stop breathing, thus starving the brain of oxygen. When caught in time, it can be reversed with Narcan (Naloxone), an antidote for narcotics.


What can parents do to decrease the narcotic problem in our neighborhoods?

The panel had many suggestions; here are a few ways you can reduce the narcotic problem in our community:

1. Get rid of unused pain pills. Remove the temptation. Remove the source. Hey we lock up guns because they are dangerous to children but we keep pills that are causing many more deaths right on our bedside table. What gives? Many police stations and pharmacies have safe boxes where unused medications can be safely disposed.

2. Find other ways to treat pain. The most common entry point for opioid abuse for teens is either a sports injury or dental work. It’s OK to treat an acute injury with proper pain relief, including prescription pain medications. That’s what they were designed for. After the third day have your son or daughter switch over to ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Use different modalities for pain relief such as ace wraps, physical therapy, compresses, etc. Your doctor can help you choose.

3. Learn to use Naloxone to reverse an overdose. It saves lives by reversing the breathing problems of an overdose. It’s legal and easy for non-medical personnel to use the intranasal spray. You can save a life with a simple squirt of antidote into a nose. The Washington Drug and Alcohol Commission ( offers periodic trainings.

4. Get help. If you have a family member or close friend who has an addiction problem, get help for yourself and your addict. People are often ashamed and struggle with this alone. This is a medical problem that needs specialized care. And so do you.

5. Contact your school’s Student Assistance Program (SAP). This interdisciplinary team includes counseling, teachers, rehab, and law enforcement help. Most schools have a SAP, even if you haven’t heard of them.

6. Join a support group. Nar-Anon, or one of the many on-line support groups such as The Addict’s Mom or Soul Sisters, are just a few examples. Addiction is too hard to face by yourself.

7. Call a treatment program. Programs such as Gateway Rehab (800-472-1177 ) or the re:solve crisis line (412-888-8226) have people ready to help 24/7/365.

8. Get more education. Have educators come to your church group, scout meetings, school. There is power through education. There are lots of people ready to help you. Phillip Little, an education and outreach specialist from the Office of the Attorney General is available at 412-565-7680 or Get even more resources from the National Institute on Drug Abuse about heroin (


As Dr. Traynor, a doctor in the Emergency Room at St. Clair Hospital pointed out, “I can’t solve this problem, but we can solve this problem.” And he should know — he sees heroin and prescription drug overdoses on a regular basis, right here in suburban Pittsburgh.

If you suspect that a family member has a problem with opioid abuse, talk to your pediatrician. We can help.