In 2015, the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) announced that it would run its first 360 Strategy pilot program in Pittsburgh. The goal of the program is to crack down on violence and help the community combat its high heroin and prescription opioid abuse rates.

The program aims to bring together related agencies to pool resources and work toward common goals, such as:

  • Getting drug traffickers and violent gangs off the street
  • Educating young people on the negatives of drug use and crime in forums such as schools, community organizations, and social media
  • Preventing medical professionals from writing opioid prescriptions that get diverted to the street
  • Hosting summits to bring together community leaders and members to discuss substance abuse and crime
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Pittsburgh also made the news in December 2015 when Mayor Bill Peduto signed an ordinance decriminalizing marijuana. The new policy provides that a person who is found in possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana will be fined $25, rather than face a criminal conviction. If found smoking marijuana in public, the fine rises to $100. Carnegie Mellon University estimates that this ordinance will save Pittsburgh $1 million each year in city resources. Although Pittsburgh has decriminalized certain marijuana practices, it is still working to stem the rates of abuse of other drugs.

Drug Use Rates in Pittsburgh

At present, much of the available statistical data on drug use rates in Pittsburgh relates to heroin and prescription opioid abuse. However, the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has published statistical information on the rates of substance abuse in Pittsburgh from 2005 to 2010. Per the survey, there was an annual average of 2.1 million people living in Pittsburgh.

The SAMHSA snapshot illuminates the drug use rates of this population and provides the following insights:

  • An estimated 281,000 Pittsburgh residents in the 12-or-older age group had used an illicit drug in the prior year.
  • In the prior year, 10.1 percent used marijuana.
  • Approximately 4.8 percent abused a prescription medication for a nonmedical purpose.
  • These rates of drug use in Pittsburgh were similar to national averages.
  • About 182,000 (8.7 percent of this population) were estimated to have a substance use disorder in the prior year.
  • About 116,000 adults (6.1 percent) in the 18-or-older age group experienced a major depressive episode in the prior year.

While it’s true that rates of substance abuse and mental health affliction in Pittsburgh keep with the national average, the DEA selected Pittsburgh for its first 360 Strategy pilot program in part because of the city’s drug overdose rates. In 2010 alone, 50 people died from a heroin overdose in Pittsburgh. In 2014, the number jumped to 157 overdose deaths. According to research, the Pittsburgh communities most affected by heroin abuse are Mount Oliver, Beltzhoover, and Knoxville as well as sections of Brookline and the South Side Slopes. The high occurrence of overdose deaths can serve to raise awareness of the need for individuals who are abusing drugs in Pittsburgh to seek help from a professional treatment center.

Getting Help in Pittsburgh

Drug treatment services can be provided in a host of settings. A rehab center typically offers a comprehensive level of care, but individuals may also get help from hospitals, detoxification centers, doctors’ offices (e.g., for Suboxone therapy), and methadone maintenance facilities. There are numerous professionals who can also help with getting individuals to rehab or supporting them while they are there, including interventionists, doctors, social workers, therapists, nurses, and addiction specialists.

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Get Away to Focus on Recovery

Some individuals who need drug recovery services may be concerned that they cannot afford treatment. There are many different options available, and paying for treatment need not be a barrier to entering a facility that can help. Individuals who are seeking help for substance abuse in Pittsburgh may rely on local or state resources. The Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs maintains an online treatment provider directory. This site may provide information on some low-cost or no-cost options.

A more general search is likely to yield contact information for private rehab facilities. Typically, these private facilities accept private health insurance or self-pay. In some instances, a private rehab may accept state-funded insurance, such as Medicaid. The best practice is to directly contact a rehab and learn about its costs and payment options.

Recovery is a navigable experience because there are many people waiting to help. The key to recovery is starting it. As the recovery process begins, and the person has time away from substance abuse, the positive effects of rehab can begin to take hold. No one has to know each and every step at the outset of the process, but it is necessary to take the first step to getting help.