An Irwin man hopes his son's story will help others stay away from drugs.
Carmen Capozzi and his family started Sage's Army after his son, Sage Capozzi, 20, died last March of a heroin overdose.
“Sage was a good kid who made a bad choice,” the father said.
The mission of Sage's Army is to raise awareness of drug problems among youth and erase the fear of talking to parents about them.
“A lot of the parents have no clue this is going on,” Carmen Capozzi said. “We have parents that are in denial. They just don't want to believe it. We have a serious heroin epidemic. It's bad. It's not just heroin. It's prescription pills. Prescription pills are bad. These kids are getting them like crazy … We're trying to eliminate the stigma and the silence … These kids are using drugs and people need to know it.”
He recently went before Norwin School District officials to try to start anti-drug activities in the district that serves North Huntingdon Township, Irwin and North Irwin.
“Whatever you guys need me to do to talk to the kids, save one life, I will do anything,” Capozzi told school directors.
“I commend you for your efforts,” board president Robert Perkins replied.
School director Dennis Rittenhouse expressed his support for Sage's Army. He spoke about his experience observing the Reality Tour stop in Norwin, and noted the overdoses in Westmoreland County.
The Reality Tour is a national anti-drug and anti-alcohol program that features real stories and scenarios from people affected by drugs and alcohol.
In February, the Westmoreland County Coroner's Office reported 16 overdose deaths so far this year.
“We all have to be responsible for this and make a concerted effort to cooperate and work with Capozzi and the Reality Tour to make our students aware at a young age of what's going on out there, and try to prevent this,” Rittenhouse said. “It just astounds me. It really does. We need to address it somehow, some way.”
“We're willing to work with you any way we can,” Perkins told Capozzi. “We realize it's a serious problem. A lot of people say it's not in our area, but it is in our area.”
Sage Capozzi was a senior at Norwin High School, but he did not graduate. Sage overdosed on March 5, 2012.
Carmen Capozzi described his son as a typical teenager who loved golf and other activities, and didn't show signs of being a drug user.
“At (age) 14, someone introduced him to heroin and he snorted it,” Carmen Capozzi said. “We didn't find out until he got in trouble at 17 that he even tried heroin. He and his friends were going around and breaking into cars after church. They got caught, and that's what sent them into the system.”
Carmen Capozzi said his son entered into treatment programs to battle addiction, but the drug and “the silence” later cost him his life.
“Heroin, it's the devil,” Carmen Capozzi said. “We stayed silent to protect Sage because he had to go out in the community and get a job … The problem is it takes such a hold on these kids.”
Carmen Capozzi was accompanied to the school board meeting by Jeff DiPerma, a father of two Sunset Valley Elementary first-graders.
DiPerma, a Norwin graduate, said he and Carmen Capozzi are musicians who have known each other since the 1990s and he was inspired by the efforts in memory of Sage.
“I'm honored to work with him,” DiPerma said. “For me, I would have been one of (those) parents that sort of turned their head away from it or turned my shoulder like, ‘Not here, it (isn't) going to happen to my kids.' I'm proud to get involved with it.”
More information about Sage's Army is available online at its Facebook page, which has nearly 4,000 “likes.”
Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965, or [email protected].