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Armstrong officials tell Sen. Casey they need more money to fight opioid epidemic | TribLIVE.com
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Armstrong officials tell Sen. Casey they need more money to fight opioid epidemic

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Leif Greiss| Tribune-Review
Kami Anderson, left, executive director of the Armstrong, Indiana and Clarion Drug and Alcohol Commission, tells U.S. Sen. Bob Casey on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017, about programs being implemented to help people with opioid addictions.
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Leif Greiss |Tribune-Review
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, middle, holding microphone, hosts a discussion with Armstrong County officials, law enforcement and health professionals and residents impacted by the opioid crisis on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017.
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Leif Greiss | Tribune-Review
Armstrong County District Attorney Scott Andreassi, right, holding microphone, speaks to U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, left, on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017, about the county's need for federal funds to help fight the opioid crisis.
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Leif Greiss/Tribune-Review
Armstrong County Courthouse

Armstrong County needs more money to fight the opioid crisis, county leaders told U.S. Sen. Bob Casey.

Casey hosted a discussion with a dozen Armstrong leaders, law enforcement, health professionals and residents whose lives had been impacted by the opioid crisis.

“What I’d ask you today is that, when you go back to Washington, D.C., is that you impress upon Congress and the president that we need help,” Armstrong County District Attorney Scott Andreassi told Casey. “When you go back, don’t forget smaller counties like Armstrong.”

Andreassi said law enforcement has watched in frustration over the past 15 years as drug abuse has destroyed their communities, while their requests to the state and federal governments fell on deaf ears.

He said he has seen people in the county work without pay and work with threadbare budgets to fight the opioid crisis.

Each member of the discussion group took a portion of the 40-minute session to present their concerns and questions to Casey regarding what the federal government is doing to help counties with their opioid problems.

“We need money — everybody needs money; no one is going to say we have enough,” said Jason Renshaw, vice chairman of the Armstrong County Commissioners.

Casey said he has heard these concerns elsewhere. There are concerns that next fiscal year’s budget will cut resources that help fight the opioid crisis, in order for Congress to increase military spending.

“I think a lot of folks say to the federal government, ‘Don’t just give us mandates — how about some dollars?’ — and that that’s a justifiable criticism,” Casey said.

About 15 to 20 people came to listen to the discussion, but only one person outside of the roundtable, Armstrong County Jail Warden Philip Schaffer, got to ask Casey a question.

Schaffer expressed concerns about those addicted to opioids who go to jail, are released, then return to using opioids but overdose because they don’t realize their tolerance has decreased during their time in jail.

As of last year, Armstrong County had a per capita rate of drug-related overdose deaths of 59.5 overdoses per 100,000, moving it up from the fifth highest rate in 2015 to the fourth highest in the state.

However, Kami Anderson, executive director of the Armstrong, Indiana and Clarion Drug and Alcohol Commission, said two new programs have been implemented that could prevent overdose death rates from increasing in 2017.

The commission finished its second year of a mobile outreach recovery team that helps people who are brought into hospitals because of an overdose get treatment.

Anderson said that of the 427 referrals they’ve received, 207 have agreed to participate with the commission’s team. Of that 207, 67 percent got treatment.

The roundtable in Kittanning is part of a series that Casey is conducting across the state. He has held earlier meetings in Pittsburgh and Venango, Warren, York, and Snyder counties.

One is scheduled for Perry Township this month.

Casey said he is inspired by the efforts being taken at the county level but finds the stories he’s heard frustrating, too.

“It’s frustrating because in many counties, as hard as they work and as much as they’ve done for years, the number (of overdoses) gets higher,” Casey said. “All the more reason federal officials have to convene meetings like this to listen and learn, then take back to Washington.”

Leif Greiss is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4681 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @Leif_Greiss

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