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Pittsburgh's Ukrainian community worried about family and friends after Russia's invasion

The Rev. John Haluszczak points to the words "Lord, the Great and Almighty, protect our beloved Ukraine," painted in Ukrainian in St. Vladimir Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022, in Pittsburgh.
Jessie Wardarski
The words "Lord, the Great and Almighty, protect our beloved Ukraine," are painted in Ukrainian in St. Vladimir Ukrainian Orthodox Church, on Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022, in Pittsburgh.

On today’s episode of The Confluence: Timothy Tomson, a pastor at St. Mary's Ukrainian Orthodox Church in McKees Rocks, shares how his parish is feeling and reacting to Russia’s invasion; and Spotlight PA’s Ed Mahon explains his latest investigation into misleading and possibly dangerous claims some Pennsylvania dispensaries are making about the ability to treat opioid use disorder with cannabis. 

‘Ukraine needs prayer,’ says pastor at local Ukrainian Orthodox Church
(0:00 - 9:15)

Across the country and in Pittsburgh, communities rallied in support of Ukraine as Russia continues its invasion.

Father Tim Tomson, who presides over St Mary’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church in McKees Rocks, spoke at a rally for Ukraine yesterday in downtown Pittsburgh.

“I met people from basically every country in the world,” he says. “I was talking to one lady from Russia and basically, she said, you can't lay this at the feet of all Russians. Because Putin started this war, not the Russian people.”

He calls for Pittsburghers to pray for Ukraine.

“The main thing, my friends, is to lift each other in prayer,” he says. “To love each other, to forgive each other, to have compassion for each other.”

Tomson is a third-generation Ukrainian with family members in Ukraine, as is the case for some of his parishioners.

A member of Tomson’s congregation told him their relative was injured in the last week due to the invasion.

“A Russian helicopter came and dropped a bomb, and the shrapnel hit [the parishioner's] mother in the back of the head and, you know, injured her,” he says. The parishioner “wants to go back to be with her parents, which, you know, in a way, I can't blame her. But it's better to be where you're safe, I think.”

Some Pennsylvania medical marijuana companies are making potentially dangerous claims about marijuana’s ability to treat opioid use disorder
(9:20 - 18:30)

Pennsylvania is one of few states that list opioid use disorder as a qualifying medical condition to access medical marijuana.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, those with opioid use disorder qualify, but only if “conventional therapeutic interventions are contraindicated or ineffective, or for which adjunctive therapy is indicated in combination with primary therapeutic interventions.”

An investigation by Spotlight PA’s Ed Mahon found some Pennsylvania cannabis companies made incorrect, potentially dangerous claims about the drug’s effectiveness in treating opioid use disorder.

“We found out two companies in particular that used identical language to claim that research suggests medical marijuana can be a viable substitute for buprenorphine,” Mahon says

TheCDC lists methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone as effective medication-assisted treatments for opioid use disorder.

Mahon shared the claims made by medical marijuana companies with eight experts.

“Several were alarmed by the statement, calling it untrue,” he says. “Another author told me that advocating substituting cannabis for buprenorphine, methadone, or naltrexone is not based on any research and it may be dangerous.”

Mahon also contacted the medical marijuana companies making these claims, and he says they defended the statements.

The state Department of Health told Mahon it cannot regulate the claims companies make.

“The medical marijuana law itself gives [the Department of Health] certain powers, but it doesn't explicitly mention these companies’ advertising,” says Mahon.

He says, “experts also said there's a need for greater oversight from the state, from federal authorities or greater oversight in general.”

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in Monday to Thursday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts. 

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