Westmoreland County Receives Grant to Tackle Overdose Deaths

(Greensburg, PA – January 20, 2016) – Westmoreland Community Action announces that they have just been awarded the first $250,000 of an anticipated $435,000 gift from the Allegheny Foundation in support of the Westmoreland County Drug Overdose Task Force.
The Westmoreland County Drug Overdose Task Force (DOTF), launched in 2013, is a community-based multi-year project whose mission is to dramatically reduce the number of overdose deaths in our community. In 2015, there were 113 confirmed overdose deaths in Westmoreland County, with another 12 under investigation. This dramatically surpasses 2014’s rate of 87.
With the generous support of the Allegheny Foundation, the DOTF will create a full time Director position to oversee the Task Force, start up a drug and alcohol helpline, and enhance ongoing efforts to educate and inform the public and stakeholders on the drug epidemic and what actions they can take to prevent overdoses. “We in the county are very fortunate to have the Allegheny Foundation supporting these initiatives,” says Tay Waltenbaugh, CEO of Westmoreland Community Action. “WCA and the Task Force realize the impact and difference the helpline and full time Director will make in reducing overdose deaths.”
The Director will:
• coordinate peer-to-peer education of physicians and other health care workers on prescribing practices and distribution,
• coordinate distribution of naloxone, an overdose reversal drug, to family members, schools and first responders,
• facilitate successful partnerships to promote and educate the community on the misuse, abuse, diversion and risks/harm from prescription medications.

The Director’s position will mirror and build upon the success of North Carolina’s Project Lazarus. The Project Lazarus model, initiated in Wilkes County, NC, and led by President/CEO Fred Wells Brason II, maintains that every drug overdose is preventable. In contrast to other drug task forces led by law enforcement, Project Lazarus takes a holistic community collaboration approach to combatting overdoses, recording a 61% drop in deaths from 2009-2011.
Upon learning of Westmoreland County’s plan to hire a DOTF Director here, Brason said, “The Project Lazarus model and premise is that communities are responsible for their own health, and addressing prescription drug and heroin substance use issues requires a balanced approach of prevention, intervention and treatment. The stakeholders and community sectors of Westmoreland County have been collaborating and are collectively having an impact. Congratulations to DOTF for receiving the grant to move forward even more with changing and saving lives.” The director position is expected to be filled by the end of February.
The help line will provide resources/referrals to those seeking assistance for themselves or loved ones with a D&A issue. Local help line staff will provide referrals to treatment or general information on resources. Once the help line is operational, the DOTF will launch a public outreach campaign to spread the word, using various outlets including but not limited to the Get In website and social media.
Since the DOTF is based on community collaborations and establishing partnerships, funds for these projects are being accepted and administered through Westmoreland Community Action (WCA), a local non-profit human service corporation, designated as the official Community Action Agency of Westmoreland County in 1980. WCA will oversee and manage the funding from the Allegheny Foundation, as well as any future financial assistance for the DOTF. In addition, the DOTF advisory committee is comprised of key community leaders, namely, Commissioner Gina Cerilli, Commissioner Charles Anderson, Commissioner Ted Kopas, Coroner Ken Bacha, and Detective Tony Marcocci of the county DA’s office.
For additional information about the Westmoreland County Drug Overdose Task Force, please visit www.co.westmoreland.pa.us/index.aspx?NID=1931.