Town hall opens discussion about addiction in Mercer County

The forum at United Methodist Church in Mercer was somber, with community members seeking answers and hope

Nine peopled suffered heroin overdoses in one day in Columbus, Ohio.


MERCER, Pa. (WKBN) – How can a community put a stop to drug addiction? That’s what was discussed at Mercer County’s first-ever town hall meeting amid a growing heroin epidemic.

Several people told their own stories at the somber meeting Wednesday night at the United Methodist Church. Addiction, especially to alcohol and heroin, plays a huge part in many of their lives.

They went to the private town hall seeking answers and hope. Some wrote down questions on index cards to ask them anonymously.

“They’re the ones that need the help, that are looking for the help, so it’s an opportunity to reach out to people that may have questions, may have problems, and try to help them through this difficult time in their lives,” said panelist Mark Benedetto.

There were several young people in the audience, though most were older — parents or grandparents trying to help a loved one.

One woman who wanted to remain anonymous said she’s seen the problem in Mercer and is looking for answers.

“I’m here so I can learn more about how to handle people that come to me and are talking to me, and what to really say to them,” she said. “It is really, really bad. It really is.”

Forums like this are designed to educate the public, but the problem keeps getting worse. According to organizers of the town hall, 23 people from Mercer County died from overdoses last year.

“It’s increasingly getting worse and I don’t think we’re at the top of where the curve is. I think it will be another two years before we hit a peak,” said Mercer County Sheriff Gary Hartman.

Still, Mercer residents are hopeful. Getting their questions answered, one person said, is the first step in helping themselves and their loved ones.

“I think this is the beginning of a movement, and you have to start somewhere,” Benedetto said. “You have to get the conversation going, pull the shroud of what alcohol, and drug use, and abuse is because an addict could be you or me.”

The church will hold another town hall on April 19.

To see all of WKBN 27 First News’ coverage of the heroin epidemic, visit the designated ‘Heroin Crisis’ section on WKBN.com.

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