Hope After Heroin: The Epidemic in Our Backyard

Hope After Heroin: The Epidemic in Our Backyard


ANNOUNCER:
Funding for this program
was made possible by:[POLICE SIRENS BEEP]POLICE CHATTER:
Here in the 400 block of Center,
just before 4th Street,a real big guy, he looks
like he’s about to overdose.
[RESPONSE OVER RADIO] [POLICE SIRENS BEEP] – I’m Sage Capozzi. I’m 18 years old,
and I’m an addict. – There was my beautiful boy. PITCAIRN POLICE: How long
did you take the heroin? ASHLEY POTTS:
The life of an addict, I could best describe as hell.NARRATOR: Heroin
has a hold on this country,
and Western Pennsylvania
hasn’t escaped its grip.
– There isn’t a community, a town,
a county in our region that doesn’t have
a major heroin problem today. – It’s cross-generational. It crosses ethnic lines.NARRATOR:
The problem is so pervasive,
people are, literally,
overdosing on the street.
PITCAIRN POLICE: Pay attention
to this officer, okay. – Yes, sir.KENNETH AQUILINE: I could’ve
lost my life so many times.
DR. CAPRETTO: It started
with the dramatic rise
of prescription pain medicines.– When I was 13 years old, my uncle gave me
my first OxyContin. – I eventually
moved to heroin. – The pull of the drugs
would grab me. – Their brains
have been hijacked.ASHLEY: And in the end,
I became a slave to the drug.
– I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing
that I hate. DR. CAPRETTO: Stigma keeps
people from talking about it.NARRATOR: But now, people “are”
stepping out of the shadows…
– Hi, I’m Jenn,
and I am an addict. – And I felt embarrassed. – My life went south real fast. – This is the place
that really truly saved my life and gave me that foundation
that I had needed.NARRATOR:
Sharing their stories…
inspiring others…HERB BAILEY:
Recovery is something
that anyone can do
at any point.
NARRATOR:
…working for change.
CARMEN CAPOZZI:
We need treatment on demand.
NARRATOR: There “can” be
“hope after heroin.”
But how do we get there?And who’s leading the way –to fight the epidemic
in our backyard.
– This is the greatest
drug epidemic of our time. Question is,
how are we going to respond? [♪♪♪]CARMEN ON VIDEO:
Hi, Sage.
Sage was a happy baby.ON VIDEO:
Who loves you?
SAGE: You.
CARMEN: Right!
He was that little kid
trying to discover his world.NARRATOR: Carmen Capozzi
loves talking about his son.
CARMEN:
One of his Cub Scout meetings. We played music together,
we golfed together… Sage hit a hole-in-one.
He was a heck of a golfer. [NOTES ON GUITAR]NARRATOR:
Sage’s other love was music.
It was a strong bond
for father and son.
– This is where me and Sage would spend a lot of time
writing music.NARRATOR:
A home studio…
They built it together…Sage was just 12 when he bought
his own electric guitar.
CARMEN: The first thing
he wanted to do
was write a song
about his brother David.
– This next song is dedicated
to my brother David, who’s no longer with us. – David was 19, we lost him
to drug-induced suicide. So he wrote a song called,
“See You Again.” And it goes,
“Now you’re gone, but your memory lives on
deep inside of me. This ain’t the end,
I know I’ll see you again.”– ♪ This ain’t the end
I know I’ll see you again ♪
NARRATOR:
At the time,
Carmen had no idea what
those lyrics would foreshadow.
When Sage was 20, he overdosed
on heroin, and died.
CARMEN: Sage started
experimenting at 14. But we didn’t find out
until he was 17. That’s when it was exposed.NARRATOR: Carmen had gotten
a call from the state police.
Troopers had Sage
and two friends.
CARMEN: They were breaking
into cars to get OxyContin.
NARRATOR: Carmen also found out
about so-called “pharm parties”
that Sage had attended
with friends.
CARMEN:
They steal medicine from home
and they get together,
they throw it in a bowl.
And put on a blindfold
and you take whatever you pick.
A lot of these kids thought,
well, this is harmless.
You know, it’s not harmless,
none of this is.NARRATOR:
Sage entered treatment.
That’s when he admitted
it wasn’t just
pills and marijuana,
it was heroin, too.
Then began an exhausting
and emotional cycle
of rehab and relapse.CARMEN: There was times he’d
work a program for six months.
And he’d be doing good.But it was a struggle,
it was a struggle.
– I’m getting treatment and help
to help my addiction.NARRATOR: Sage opened up
about his struggle
in a video he recorded
for a friend’s school project.
– I think about using every day,
but it’s just one day at a time. You have to keep
telling yourself that it’s one day at a time.NARRATOR: Those days at home
included regular drug tests,
and his parents kept
a close eye on his behavior.
CARMEN: Some of the signs
we looked for were sleeping a lot,
agitated, anger.NARRATOR: Like many parents,
Carmen tried punishment,
but that didn’t work either.– Here’s the thing, you take
everything off your child and nothing matters. Took his phone,
took his car. You take his stereo
out of his room. That’s all
you have to work with. And when they’re doing opiates,
whether it’s heroin, prescription pills,
whatever it is, they don’t care,
they just don’t care.NARRATOR: The first time
Sage overdosed, he was 18.
EMTs saved him with Narcan,which reverses the effects
of a heroin or opioid overdose.
Carmen and his wife
rushed to the hospital
. – We got there,
there’s Sage in his bed, in the bed crying, scared. “I’ll never do this again, Dad.
I’m sorry, I’m sorry, sorry. I never want to do this again.”NARRATOR: Sage entered
another program.
But when Carmen once again saw
the signs of drug abuse,
he made Sage leave their home.CARMEN:
That’s what they say, “Kick ’em out.
Kick ’em out.” Kicked him out. Two days later,
I get a call from Sage, “Dad, can I come home? Please, can I come home?
I wanna come home.”NARRATOR: Carmen
let Sage come back.
When he did, Sage admitted
that he had overdosed
just the night before.– He told me, “Dad, I’m scared.
I don’t want to die.” He goes, “Dad, I came to
a door with a light and I didn’t go through it.” We sat there and cried. That day, the second time
my son overdosed, I realized I was
powerless to help my son. All I could do
was support him.NARRATOR: When Sage learned
that his grandmother
was dying of cancer,
he didn’t take the news well.
CARMEN: Him and his grandma
were very close. They spent a lot of summers
together golfing. And just like people do
with alcohol, they figure, well, I’m going to
go sit in a bar and drink my blues away. Sage decided, I’m going to,
one more time. [PHONE RINGS]NARRATOR:
Just a few days later,
another call
in the middle of the night…
Carmen’s wife answered.CARMEN:
I heard her say, “What? Oh, my god, alright,
we’ll be right there.” And I knew. And I said,
“No, please, no.” And she said, “Get dressed.”
And I said, “No, Cindy…” and she said,
“Get dressed now.” We got there, and the doctor
couldn’t look me in the eye, he just stared at the ground. And I knew. I said, “He’s gone”
and he just shook his head.We go in,
my uncle’s holding me up,
I can’t even walk,
and there was my beautiful boy.
A kid that would sit
on the golf course and tell me,
“Dad, look at the sky,
that’s God.
Look at the way
the shadows come across.
It’s me and you, dad,it’s me and you
sitting right here together.”
We cherished those moments,
and there’s my boy laying there.When Sage died that night,they took me
to my parents’ house
to my old bedroom.I spent two days on the floor…Couldn’t take the hands
off my face.
And that night, it was
pitch black in that room, that night
I heard Sage’s voice say, “Dad, get up,
they’re not bad kids. You have to help.” [SIRENS WAILING]NARRATOR: To show
how badly help is needed…
POLICE RADIO:
Here in the 400 block of Center,
just before 4th Street,a real big guy, he looks
like he’s about to overdose.
NARRATOR: Pitcairn police
allowed our crew
to ride along with
Officer Robert Gowans.
And it didn’t take long,
in broad daylight,
just off the main street.OFFICER ROBERT GOWANS:
Yep, he’s overdosing.POLICE RADIO:
It has to be heroin;
he has a needle in his hand.PITCAIRN POLICE:
How long did you take it? How long did you
take the heroin?NARRATOR: The officer
treats him with Narcan.
– Pay attention
to this officer, okay. – Yes, Sir. – Lean back, lean back.
Lean back, lean back. Hey, we got you a medic
on the way, ok, alrighty, because
you need to be treated, ok. Kenny, it seems like
that Narcan worked a bit. You seem a little more
coherent already.OFFICER ROBERT GOWANS:
When we first got there,
he was white as a ghost,
he was grey,
his eyes were rolling
into the back of the head.
He was about as close
as most people will get
to going unconscious.NARRATOR:
Three weeks later,
we caught up with that man,on that same sidewalk
in Pitcairn.
His name is Kenneth Aquiline,and he told us what he could
remember from that day.
– Well, I had
started off the day taking Percocets,
and then later on in the day, I used probably
a couple bags of heroin.NARRATOR:
Not too many years ago,
Kenneth was a Marine on
active duty, deployed to Iraq.
These awards are memories of
a much happier time in his life.
KENNETH:
I was pretty much at the top
of everything that I did
because I loved it.
But I got to come back and I got to see
the highest parts of life to the lowest parts of life.NARRATOR: Like homelessness,
drug addiction,
and multiple overdoses.KENNETH: At least 7, 8,
possibly 10 that I could count.
NARRATOR: Kenneth’s story
is becoming all too common.
– There are at least nine
heroin overdoses in five days in one local township.NARRATOR: Headlines
have chronicled the problem,
county by county.different ages,
different backgrounds.
Dr. Neil Capretto has been
on the front lines
from the beginning.DR. CAPRETTO:
I’m in my 27th year full time because I know that recovery
works, and treatment works.NARRATOR: Dr. Capretto
is the medical director
at Gateway Rehabilitation
Center.
– There are more people
addicted to heroin, more families
being devastated by it, and more people
dying from heroin than in any time
in our history.NARRATOR: In Pennsylvania,
drug overdoses
are now the leading cause
of accidental death,
even worse than car crashes,and sharply higher
than the year before.
And of those deadly overdoses,more than 80 percent were
heroin or opioid related.
This crisis has been building
for more than a decade.
– It started with
the dramatic rise of prescription pain medicines,
the opioids, the OxyContins, the Vicodins,
the hydrocodones. There was also heavy marketing
of pharmaceutical companies with some misleading information that these substances
are not addicting, are safe. And a lot of well-meaning
doctors started prescribing more and more of these,
with good intentions. But we’ve now learned
that the pendulum swung too far.NARRATOR:
From 1999 through 2013,
prescription opioid sales
in the US nearly quadrupled.
Deaths from prescription
opioids, also quadrupled.
DR. CAPRETTO: So much of this
got diverted onto the streets and by the thousands, people in our region
became addicted to them. And these medicines
became expensive. OxyContin was going for
a dollar per milligram. The average person
we were seeing, was using close to
200 milligrams a day. So, you do the math.NARRATOR: When the pill habit
becomes too expensive,
users turn to
the cheaper option…
heroin.– They go from pills,
to snorting heroin, and then,
after a couple of months, to get more for their money,
they switch over to needles. The last 5,000
new heroin users I’ve seen, that’s the exact path
that they follow.NARRATOR: Heroin tricks
the brain into thinking
the drug is needed to survive.That, combined with
intense physical pain,
forces people back for more.– The withdrawals from heroin
are unlike anything.NARRATOR: Ashley Potts
started using when she was 17.
ASHLEY: Heroin,
in the beginning, made me feel euphoric. But whenever
I didn’t have the heroin, it was the worst sickness that
I could ever imagine in my life. Everything on you hurts. You can’t move, you can’t eat,
you can’t sleep, you’re hot, you’re cold. You know,
I always tell people, imagine the worst flu
you could ever possibly have, and times it by a thousand.
– But there is hope. If they do get help
and treatment, they can break free of it.NARRATOR: If anyone knows about
breaking free, it’s Ashley.
She’s now 30 years old,
and in long-term recovery.
– Today, I do everything
that I can in order to try to give back
and let everybody know that recovery is possible
and that treatment works.NARRATOR: Ashley
shares her story often
at public hearings,
drug summits, in schools.
ASHLEY:
Every time I speak, it just takes a little chisel
out of the brick wall to reduce the stigma
and raise awareness.NARRATOR:
But awareness of the dangers
was not part of
Ashley’s childhood.
ASHLEY:
When I was 9 years old, I took my first
drink of alcohol. My mother had let us all
drink on New Year’s.NARRATOR: By the time
Ashley was 12,
she was smoking marijuana.Then came prescription drugs.ASHLEY: The first time
I took OxyContin, the prescription opioid,
I was 13 years old. It was an oxy 80
and I snorted it. My uncle had given it to me. And I remember
I puked my guts out. I got so physically ill
from that pill, but I had fallen in love with the euphoric feeling
that it gave me. And I chased that feeling
for years.NARRATOR: Chasing it
with cocaine, then crack,
and remembering the high
from opioid pills,
she finally gave in to heroin,
sometimes 25 bags a day.
– I couldn’t shower,
I couldn’t brush my teeth, I couldn’t do anything
until I got high. And then, once I got high, it’s how am I
going to get high again, how am I going to
find more money.NARRATOR:
Ashley stole from family,
bounced checks,
even burglarized a home.
– I robbed
an innocent person’s home and I stole their belongings. And I just can’t even imagine
what kind of trauma that imposed on somebody.NARRATOR: Ashley managed to stay
clean when she was pregnant,
having a healthy baby girl
when she was 19.
And with her father’s help,she was getting her life
back together.
ASHLEY: He helped me
get a car, a job,
and I was trying to be
productive again.
I remember saying to myselfthat I was going to be
the best mom that I could be.
NARRATOR: But not long after
giving birth, Ashley relapsed.
Her father and stepmother took
temporary custody of Baby Riley
and kicked Ashley
out of the house.
ASHLEY: I felt like
I had let her down, I felt like she would be
better off without me. I felt like the world would be
better if I would just die.NARRATOR:
But she kept using,
lived with a friend
who also abused drugs,
and even missed her daughter’s
first birthday.
ASHLEY: I had done
all of those things that I said I’d never do. Like I said I was never going to
become a heroin addict, I was. I was never going to
hurt my daughter, I hurt her more than words
could possibly explain.NARRATOR: Family intervention
didn’t work,
her turning point finally came
when she was 20
when her mother
had her arrested.
ASHLEY: She came in, and the police
came in behind her, and walked me out in handcuffs. I realized that I had no more
people to manipulate in my life.NARRATOR:
Ashley was at her bottom
and decided to get clean
one more time.
First, a detoxification unitwhere medication helps ease
the withdrawal from heroin.
ASHLEY:
Nothing about detox is pleasant. It is awful. It’s just a very,
it’s a very dark place.NARRATOR:
After an inpatient program,
she spent six months
in a halfway house
in Washington, Pennsylvania.– This is the place
that really truly saved my life and gave me that foundation
that I had needed.NARRATOR: It was here
she had to turn herself in
to authorities.ASHLEY: I had several
warrants out for my arrest
from all these crimes
I committed during my usage.
I had over a hundred counts
of felony charges
pending against me.NARRATOR: The judge’s sentence
was life changing.
Seven months’ time served
and immediate parole.
– That was whenever
I truly, truly felt that I had
a second chance at life because that judge could have
sent me to state prison for a long time. DR. CAPRETTO: Welcome to
Gateway Rehabilitation Center. We’re here to
try to be of help to you.I like to view addiction
more as a public health issue.
NARRATOR: Dr. Capretto is among
a growing number of advocates
in favor of drug “treatment”versus incarceration
for non-violent offenders.
– Because if you just
incarcerate a person with addiction
and don’t get them treatment, there’s a very,
very high likelihood they’re just going to
come back out and continue to use.NARRATOR: Ashley stopped using,
but is still a convicted felon
now petitioning the state
for a pardon.
ASHLEY: This is a letter
from Dr. Capretto,
and he’s writing a letter
of my character
to present
to the Board of Pardons.
NARRATOR:
And for good reason.
At the halfway house,Ashley tested at just
the sixth-grade education level.
But years of study
got her into college.
– This is my award
to be a presidential scholar.NARRATOR:
She’s now two semesters shy
of a Master’s degree
in Social Work
and currently working forthe Southwestern Pennsylvania
Human Services Department.
– I oversee and supervise
the crisis workers, the crisis staff,
and the crisis program workers. [PHONE RINGS]
– Hi, this is Ashley.NARRATOR: She also
counsels people in recovery.
ASHLEY: I see drug and alcohol,
and mental health clients.
I assist them in obtaining
achievable goals.
NARRATOR: Ashley has also
achieved a goal
she failed at before–ASHLEY:
What’s your favorite ride?NARRATOR: –being a good mom
to her daughter.
ASHLEY: My relationship
with her now is amazing.
My father and my stepmother,they adopted her
and she lives with them.
She spends weekends with me,
we go on vacation together.
She misses me
when I’m not there
and she loves me
unconditionally.
I had to lose everythingto know how great it is
to have something.
NARRATOR: Loss has driven
Carmen Capozzi, too.
And his mission startedjust ten days after
his son Sage died.
– A young man showed up
at my house with a laptop. He started a “Sage Capozzi
Memorial Page”. I said, “Nick,
Sage’s heart was good, he was always
trying help his friends. I need to create awareness;
I need an army of people.” And he goes, “Oh, cool, dude,
Sage’s Army.”NARRATOR: That was the beginning
of Carmen’s effort
to start Sage’s Army.They’re working
to change laws…
– We’ve advocated
for the Narcan, we’ve advocated for
the prescription database, the Good Samaritan Bill.NARRATOR:
…help families…
CARMEN: They’re lost,they don’t know how to help
the person battling addiction.
NARRATOR:
…and lead people to recovery.
CARMEN: We open our door
to anybody that needs help.
And we try to guide and
inspire them to the next step.
ABBEY ZORZI: I was struggling
with my addiction.
NARRATOR: Abbey Zorzi
needed help, and she knew it.
ABBEY: I was just not
in a good spot.
NARRATOR:
For this scholar and athlete,
it started in high school.First drinking and marijuana,
then a Vicodin prescription
after having
her wisdom teeth pulled.
ABBEY:
Some of my friends said, you can get high off these. So, I started taking them
more than prescribed and then I started
buying them on the street. Six months
into taking those painkillers, I moved to heroin.NARRATOR: By the time she was
in her first year of college
at Saint Vincent, Abbey had
a full-blown heroin addiction
and didn’t know where to turn.But she remembered
a friend, Sage Cappozzi,
and she reached out to his dad.ABBEY: I was on social media
at the time
and I saw his page
of Sage’s Army.
And I ended up messaging him.NARRATOR:
Abbey is now in recovery,
back at Saint Vincent Collegefinishing her degree
in psychology
and still thankful
for Sage’s Army.
ABBEY: I just felt
this love and this warmth. I could cry right now
just thinking about it.NARRATOR: Abbey also volunteers
with Sage’s Army,
speaking at schools,
attending events,
proving that personal stories
impact people
in a way doctors can’t.– Get somebody
who’s been through the exact same experience
of heroin addiction and talks to them about
their own journey and says, “I was like you once and because
I took this journey of recovery, here is my life today.” That’s very powerful. [READING OF NAMES AT VIGIL]NARRATOR:
This vigil in Beaver County
remembered people like Sage,who lost their battle
with drug addiction.
It was organized
by the Pittsburgh Chapter
of a group called
Not One More or NOM
. [READING OF NAMES ENDS] – We’re fighting
a very serious epidemic with drug issues,
especially heroin.NARRATOR: Laura Propst
started NOM Pittsburgh
after both of her children
became addicted to heroin.
LAURA:
We have a lot of families, parents, wives, children who are experiencing
a lot of loss and grief and they just need like
a comfortable place to land. – For I don’t do
the good that I want, but the evil I do not want.NARRATOR: At the vigil,
Herb Bailey said a prayer.
HERB: With my mind,
but with my flesh, I fight this battle
to serve my addiction.NARRATOR: He’s used to
offering comforting words.
Herb does it every day
here in nearby Aliquippa
as ministry director
at Uncommon Grounds Cafe.
HERB: Uncommon Grounds
is a sanctuary.
NARRATOR:
It’s a restaurant,
and a community gathering spot
with a spiritual mission
.HERB: Our mission
is to reach the least,
the last, and the lost.NARRATOR: Uncommon Grounds
also hosts recovery meetings,
and Herb counsels people
dealing with addiction.
HERB:
People lose family, lose contact with or cut off
from their support systems, and we try to be there
and support them and they appreciate that. I’d roll my window down,
and you’d be like, bye, Mr. Herb,
bye, Mr. Herb.NARRATOR: Somona Woods
comes here often.
Her addiction to heroin
began like many others.
– A dentist
broke my jaw by accident when pulling a wisdom tooth and I became addicted
to opiates.NARRATOR: Somona says
she hasn’t used heroin
for about six months,
in part thanks to Herb.
SOMONA: He would tell me
that he better not see me
out there using,
and I’d say I promise,
I promise, Brother Herb.Then later, the pull of the drug
would grab me,
and I’d find myself on
a street corner in a dark alley,
and he’d blow his horn
and like be chasing me down.
It just made me
want to change my life
because I knew
he truly cared about me.
– The stigma of being
a heroin addict is that you’re a bad person, you’re not worthy,
you’re killing yourself, you just deserve to die. CARMEN: When my son was battling
his addiction, I was shamed. I thought I was a bad parent.NARRATOR: And that’s a mindset
advocates are trying to end.
Families don’t
need to suffer quietly.
People with addictions
don’t need to hide.
– Hi, I’m Jenn,
and I am an addict. – Hi, I’m Lauren,
and I am an addict. DR. CAPRETTO: Stigma keeps
people from talking about it, from even getting the treatment
that they need. – People are asking, why do they have to wait
for a bed in treatment? People literally are dying
waiting for a bed sometimes to get into treatment.NARRATOR: The need for
treating the heroin epidemic
has not gone unnoticed
in Harrisburg.
– How do we address this medical
problem in Pennsylvania?NARRATOR: It’s so bad,
Gov. Tom Wolf organized
statewide forums like this one
at Saint Vincent College
in Westmoreland County.– Frankly, we’re using our jail
as a detox, and I can’t think
of a worse place to do it.NARRATOR:
The 2016-2017 budget
includes more than
20 million dollars
to expand treatment optionsfor thousands of people
suffering from addiction.
Dr. Capretto says more help
can’t come soon enough.
DR. CAPRETTO: You’ve got
these windows of opportunity, and if we can’t get them in
within a couple hours, they may be back in the street
using heroin again, and you can lose that person.NARRATOR: At the root
of the epidemic –
prescription painkillers.In 2016, a state task force
developed new guidelines
for prescribing opioids.That means doctors will more
carefully monitor prescriptions
relating to treating pain
in emergency rooms,
pain related to dental care,and chronic pain
not related to cancer.
– I carry Narcan all the time.NARRATOR: New laws
also allow better access
to Naloxone or Narcan,the drug that reverses
the effects of an overdose.
Sage’s Army
was an early advocate
and now holds training classes
on Narcan use
at its headquarters in Irwin.– What if they’re not breathing?
How are they supposed to get it? It actually soaks
into the nasal cavity.NARRATOR: You can now
get Narcan at most pharmacies.
CARMEN: Anybody
prescribed an opiate, should have access to naloxone.NARRATOR:
The Pitcairn police,
who helped save Kenneth
that summer afternoon in 2016,
was the first police department
in western Pennsylvania
to carry Narcan.– The officers have
administered Narcan, I can at least count
about maybe eight, nine times, with, then eight or nine lives
that was saved.KENNETH: I guess
I’m one of the lucky ones,
one of the fortunate ones to be
able to have made it through.
NARRATOR:
Despite many second chances,
Kenneth isn’t optimistic
about his future.
– Probably death
before anything. That’s just the truth.NARRATOR: Just the opposite
of what Sage Capozzi hoped for.
– I want to get into
community college, just make up for lost time
with people in a positive way. – He didn’t mean to die.
He just got weak. You know, my son
would be 25 years old, and I sit and think. Where would he be?
What would he be doing?NARRATOR: Sage’s dad
doesn’t want pity.
He wants action.CARMEN:
We have a huge problem
and we need to accept it.– So, this is a beacon call. If we’re going to deal
with the issue, we need to be– Bye, Mr. Herb!
–people who actually care.NARRATOR: People who are
willing to be honest and open,
fight for change…or show compassion
and offer hope
when it seems there isn’t any.– It’s possible. If I can stop using,
I know anybody else can. Recovery is possible. – There is light
at the end of the tunnel. ASHLEY: It’s a lot easier
to fight a war when you have an army than it is
whenever you’re by yourself. CARMEN:
We won’t stay silent. Our voices are gonna be heard. [♪♪♪]

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