Local Approach in Armstrong County has Worked Through Drugs Kill Dreams

October 6, 2017

Written by Scott Andreassi, Armstrong County District Attorney

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According to PennLive, the number of opioid-related hospitalizations has increased fourfold from 2010, and in the U.S. 52,404 people died from opioid overdoses in 2016. The opioid epidemic has intensified, and we need to do more particularly at the local level and with youth programs to keep children safe and drug-free now and throughout their adult lives.

For over 16 years, I have partnered with Magisterial District Judge J. Gary DeComo on numerous drug prevention programs. One program called the Drugs Kill Dreams (DKD) program started with a slogan written by a 10-year-old on a poster submitted to a Lions Club contest. Since then, DKD has become a countywide initiative involving schools, churches, hospitals and law enforcement to promote awareness about the dangers of substance abuse.

Substance abuse and the opioid crisis have intensified over the past few years, so DKD has intensified its efforts to educate and protect our youth. The program works with many partners throughout the community to send a critical and clear message to our youth — drugs will kill your dreams. As a result, the program has grown exponentially and has succeeded as a grassroots approach to combat alcohol and drug abuse.

“Don’t let drugs kill your dreams” signs are placed in all Armstrong and Freeport elementary school buses. Schools in Armstrong County also require students to keep substance abuse guidelines from DKD in their binders. Judge DeComo speaks to schools in the tri-county area to deliver the message to children personally, and his live presentation includes testimonial videos from professional athletes, healthcare professionals and people who have suffered from addiction.

“I try to include messages from people the kids look up to and present the message in a way that they can relate to,” DeComo said. “Every kid listens to someone different, which is why my presentation includes 15 testimonials from people of all walks of life. If we can get one child to stop and think before using illegal drugs, then that’s a success in my book.”

DKD hosts events throughout the year to continue its mission of outreach and awareness. A “Jail Experience” is held every other month and is open to children ages 10 and up. The event shows what it’s like to be arrested, taken to jail and treated for an overdose in the emergency room. DKD hosts events on Opioid Alert Day in Feb. and Community Awareness Day in Oct. and has also partnered with the YMCA in Armstrong County to hold an annual 5K race.

During this year’s 11th annual Community Awareness Day event, we will continue our mission to educate people in western PA about the dangers of alcohol and other drugs. During the week of Oct. 23, children from the juvenile justice system will speak with their peers one-on-one at numerous high schools in the area. DKD will also host events for the wider community to share education and awareness. There will be entertainment for children and free food for those who wish to attend the events.

The opioid epidemic is a complex and challenging issue in PA and the U.S., however, grassroots approaches like the DKD program are effective when implemented on a local level. It is our belief that this program could work in other localities to educate youth about the risks of illegal drug and alcohol abuse.

Interested in the DKD program, the Community Awareness Day event, or bringing DKD to your county? Contact DA Andreassi at sjandreassi@co.armstrong.pa.us or 724-548-3209.