Pittsburgh's location as a drug-trafficking corridor warranted the city's inclusion into a federal initiative aiming to stymie the nation's opiate epidemic.
“360 Strategy” coordinates federal agents, local officers and community groups into a three-fold approach, said Gary Tuggle, Special Agent in Charge for the Philadelphia Division for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Agents are tasked with targeting drug trafficking and related organizations in Pittsburgh neighborhoods; building relationships with drug manufacturers, medical practitioners and pharmacists to ensure prescription drugs are responsibly made and distributed; and working with community organizations to combat stigma related to drug use and promote prevention, education and treatment.
“Pittsburgh is sort of a victim of its own geography,” Tuggle said. “Pittsburgh (users are) being supplied from as far away as Detroit, Philadelphia, New York, New Jersey, even Boston.”
Pennsylvania's high overdose rates were also a factor, he said. Nearly 2,500 people statewide died of overdose last year. This isn't the same crisis as the post-Vietnam War heroin epidemic or the crack crisis in the 1980s, he said.
“This current heroin epidemic has a dynamic to it that those didn’t, and that dynamic is the misuse and abuse of prescription opiods. So we’re seeing a whole new subculture of heroin addict being created as a result of that feeder system,” he said.