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Johnstown Magazine

Breaking through

Amid the rubble of drug addiction, there is hope.

By Beth Koop

Headlines everywhere are screaming about Johnstown's debilitating heroin epidemic as overdoses escalate and drug-related crime is rampant throughout the city. Families are torn apart and dreams are dashed as addiction spreads like a cancer. However, Johnstown is not capitulating to this darkness threatening to envelope it. Instead, government officials, counselors, churches, and former heroin addicts are collectively mobilizing to confront and break heroin's terrifying grip on the city.

Officials say the over-prescribing of the heavily marketed drug, Oxycontin, in the late 1990s, spawned heroin's meteoric rise in Johnstown. Oxycodone (generic term) is a semi-synthetic opiate, or narcotic, prescribed by doctors for pain relief. Unfortunately, as an opiate, it is highly addictive and soon patients from all walks of life were unknowingly becoming addicts.
"I had no idea I was an addict," says Zachary Yost, 31, of Johnstown, a painkiller abuser in high school. "I thought addicts were dirty, strung out and living on the streets." By 2000, 30% of all drug busts in Cambria County involved Oxycontin.

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