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May 2, 2014

Drug outreach event draws big crowd to St. Francis

LORETTO — An “overwhelming response” to St. Francis University’s first-ever drug trend workshop Friday reinforced the college’s mission to promote discussion about substance abuse, organizers said.

“We expected perhaps 50 (people)  – we ended up with 140,” said David Wilson, director of counseling services at the university.

The audience was a mix of high school and university faculty and abuse treatment professionals, including mental health clinicians and drug and alcohol counselors.

The theme was education about emerging trends in illicit substances and how to prevent youths from shooting toward an untimely death.

“We are not going to arrest our way out of this problem,” said Kevin Price, head of the Cambria County Drug Task Force and one of the event’s keynote speakers. “The only way it works is through education. There’s no other way of saving these kids’ lives and changing the outlook of Cambria County.”

The all-day event, held at the college’s DiSepio Institute for Rural Health and Wellness, was a “day of collaboration” between faculty and treatment specialists, Wilson said.

Price said the county’s drug education efforts are a big part of the larger fight.

“It’s a very major emphasis point ... for us to get out there and to educate whoever wants to hear us,” he said. “The more knowledge you have, the more you can guide a young person ... as far as using or not using.”

Some of Price’s presentation was graphic – infected needle sites and illustrations of the physical problems that come with consistent drug use. He said while the message isn’t intended to frighten, it has to be packed with the hard truths about drug abuse and its effects.

“The big thing with kids is you can’t lie to kids,” Price said. “Kids know when adults are lying. ... It’s not a scare tactic. It’s being truthful. You pick up that needle, that equals a life term of addiction and death.

“Our message to them is, ‘Don’t pick it up. Don’t start it.’ ”

When the workshop emptied, Price left the university to change clothes and continue investigating the dramatic appearance of the seemingly “killer” heroin batch “Seven of Hearts” that was responsible for at least nine overdoses Thursday.

Wilson said the university hopes to continue this workshop series.

“We think it was very successful, given the response,” he said.

Justin Dennis covers Saint Francis University for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at @JustinDennis.

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