Opioid Epidemic confronted in panel

Written By Robert Berger, Co-News Editor

On Monday night in Lawrence Hall 200, members of the Department of Community Engagement hosted Light of Life Ministries for a panel discussion, art installation and film screening addressing the opioid epidemic in the Pittsburgh area.

As part of the Department of Community Engagement’s Creative Conversation series, the department addresses difficult social issues to create discussion and raise awareness of these problems.

“This is the fourth or fifth one we have done and felt this was a great topic to focus on because our Ph.D. students have been working on researching this topic for the last several months,” said Heather Starr Fiedler, head of the department of community engagement.

For the past few years now, Light of Life has been involved with the Point Park community through student projects.

In the fall of 2017, Flying Scooter Production began following Dean Robinson of the Light of Life Rescue mission while visiting homeless addicts around the city. Robinson, a recovering addict, works with Light of Life where he visits homeless encampments to personally work with those struggling with addiction.

“A person coming off the streets and coming out of addiction, they hear me because I’ve been through it,” Robinson said during the panel. “They watch me and see me carry myself and that helps them.”

The documentary, “Eye of the Needle,” opened with statistics of the epidemic on screen saying that 613 citizens of Allegheny County died of drug overdose in the past year. This was a 44-percent increase from the year before.

Throughout the film, lives of the different types of addicts were depicted. The homeless population was covered first as homeless addicts shared their story with Robinson and the Light of Life crew.

One man told his story 0f taking three stamp bags of heroin with his girlfriend of three years and falling asleep next to her. He woke up to the police in their encampment providing medical attention to his girlfriend. He was then told she had died from an overdose that night and police were responding to retrieve her dead body.

The film also features members of law enforcement, as well as medical technicians, as Pittsburgh Police officers and North Huntingdon EMS were interviewed.

“There is a struggle; it’s huge,” Allegheny County Police Officer Bobbie Bertalan said in the film. “I feel like at this point I don’t know who is winning the war, but the drugs feel like they’re multiplying.”

The film followed a panel discussion led by Light of Life’s Manager of Communications Kate Wadsworth. Panelists included those involved with the film, a Point Park graduate student and members of Light of Life.

Discussion lasted for an hour as topics such as how addiction starts, who it impacts and what can be done were covered.

One question proposed by Wadsworth directed towards Robinson addressed working individually with homeless addicts, and the recovery process.

He then detailed his past battles with addiction and his journey through rehab.

The panel concluded by saying that while it may take multiple attempts, the rehab process is worth the time and effort.

In attendance were South Fayette residents Dino and Cathy Pickard who often volunteer helping the homeless. D. Pickard approached the panel and explained that ever since 1977, he has lost friends to drug addiction, and has only seen the problem grow. He then explained he wished to learn exactly how addiction starts.

The panel concluded that a number of problems are linked to the start of addiction, however, emotional pain and loneliness are some of the biggest factors. 

“I think they stated over and over that there is a drug problem, but nobody talked about the root cause,” C. Pickard said following the panel. “We know there is a problem but nobody is talking about the solution.”

However, they both agreed that while the solution should have been covered more extensively, these conversations and events are how change begins.

For the past week, an art installation depicting homeless living situations was on display in 200 of Lawrence Hall. Signs from panhandlers, couches, blankets and garbage were included to show the living arrangement of those struggling with homelessness. Everything in the exhibit was found in the city streets.  The display was created by Flying Scooter Production alongside the film.

While only part of the installation was displayed at Point Park, the full piece featured a walkthrough of a model encampment.

From here, the Flying Scooter team plan to screen the film and exhibit at various high schools and colleges across Pennsylvania.

“In the fall we will be doing a mobile installation and it will be going across Pennsylvania, Flying Scooter Production co-owner Jennifer Schlieper said.