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Fatal drug overdoses are ravaging the Mon Valley more than ever, putting an onus on school counselors and administrators to support students devastated by a loved one’s battle with addiction or drug-induced death. The Herald-Standard takes a closer look at the emotional devastation of families who have been touched this trend, the impact it's had on area school districts and what those schools are doing about it.

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Today and yesterday marked the beginning of a monthly series probing the financial and emotional costs of overdose deaths. The articles will look at the toll paid by those who have lost loved ones to addiction, as well as those who help treat or respond to it. We welcome reader feedback as we continue to probe this difficult subject.

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Twelve Step support groups aren’t just for addicts; families and friends of addicts also find support and a recovery of their own through Nar-Anon and Al-Anon. “The people who come to Nar-Anon meetings are actually sicker than the abusers. The abusers have drugs to make them do crazy things. The folks that love them are the ones out in the bushes at 4 a.m. trying to help them.” 

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Under the Affordable Care Act, all Americans are to be insured and addiction treatment is one of the key areas each policy must contain. In fact, under Act 106 of 1989, all group insurance policies needed to include at least minimal coverage for addiction treatment.

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Two experts contend that children from parents with alcohol problems may be affected psychologically. Anna Deeds, a licensed professional counselor in Uniontown, has worked with parents and children dealing with problems associated with alcohol and drug use. Dr. John Carosso is a child psychologist with extensive experience counseling families coping with substance abuse.

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The cost of drug addiction can bankrupt a person both emotionally and financially. “It starts as a habit of $20 to $50 a day but as tolerance increases the cost increases along with it,” said Ashley Potts, addiction specialist, Washington Drug and Alcohol Commission Inc. (WDAC). “Eventually demise always comes.”

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A doctor, a lawyer and a business owner – all hardworking people, all people who find value, in one way or another, with marijuana use. The business owner uses it to mellow out. The doctor believes that it has medicinal benefits. The lawyer has seen lives ruined over marijuana crimes. As the battle about whether to decriminalize or offer limited legalization of pot wages, those who believe it could provide benefits are standing up to be counted.

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Bill Addis has a warm but stern look within his eyes as he sits in a pew within the chapel of Uniontown’s Trinity Presbyterian Church. Addis wants to talk about drug and alcohol addiction and his approach to curing these ills. Addis leads others who help him operate a home on Gallatin Avenue for those plagued by poisons.

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Use of illegal and prescription drugs in the workplace has declined slowly over the last two decades, but employers spend a lot of money testing their workforces to help protect the safety of workers and the public. Fayette County’s human resource budget has $16,000 allotted for drug testing.

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Today, children and teens are inundated with images like drag racing Justin Beiber and twerking Miley Cyrus, who both have admitted to illegal drug use. Several celebrities have succumbed to the drug demons they often battled publicly. But what impact do these images have on youth and how do families combat the pervasiveness of drugs in pop culture.

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Fayette County has an increasing problem with drug abuse. A problem that can sometimes be so intense as to find the victim in an overdose state that may lead to death. From 2009 to 2011, Pennsylvania experienced 6,206 drug-induced deaths according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Fayette County had the highest rate of drug overdoses based on the population size.

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Pharm parties, hyped over the last decade as a trend among teens for sharing prescription drugs in a party setting, have been a cause for debate and concern. Skeptics believe the term pharm party was created and largely over-hyped by the media. Critics say teens sharing random prescription medications from a communal bowl isn’t common, but the fact remains, teens are abusing prescription drugs at a greater rate than ever.

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While a growing number of teenagers in Fayette County and the surrounding areas are illegally ingesting prescription narcotics like Percoset and Oxycontin, the monetary cost of such habits can quickly force even younger users to ditch the “hillbilly heroin” for the real thing.

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A new worker is hired and it appears he or she will fit in nicely with the other employees. Yet within a few weeks they are frequently calling in sick or not meeting deadlines.

The once cheery employee is now gruff with customers, forgetting routine duties and making the workday miserable for their co-workers.

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“Instead of saying no, I let someone stick a syringe in my arm.” That began George Britt’s journey through heroin addiction. Following more than two decades of drug use, the 62-year-old Fayette County man has witnessed first hand the destruction and desolation left behind by heroin use. 

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From July 2012 through June 2013, Uniontown Hospital, the only hospital in Fayette County that provides obstetrical services, saw 1,037 babies born in the Family Beginnings Birthing Center. About 30 percent -- more than 300 of those babies -- were born addicted to drugs, according to the center’s clinical director, Lea Walls.

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When Christina Upole adopted her son Tristan seven years ago, she said, “He was the most severely drug-addicted baby I ever saw.” Through a friend of a friend, Upole became aware of a pregnant prostitute in Masontown who was addicted to crack and who wanted to give up custodial rights to the baby she was carrying. The adoption was arranged privately.

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Anyone who has ever been seduced by chemicals knows the feeling -– the choice of quitting becomes harder and harder until life is measured more by irresponsible choices made to feed that addiction. Self-deception about the ability to quit, that it’s not a habit, prolongs the high until users seek help, possibly from places such as the Fayette County Drug and Alcohol Commission.