The Opioid Epidemic

As our region is in the midst of a devastating opioid epidemic in Western PA, CONNECT has convened a Health Working Group Meeting with representatives from the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD), Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and our partners from the Emergency Medical Services field who helped us launch the CONNECT Community Paramedic Program, to discuss and assess the role that local governments can play in combatting the opioid/heroin crisis in our region. Since the winter of 2016, this group has been meeting regularly to share experiences, data, and best practices. CONNECT has brought in experts to educate our elected and appointed officials and has focused on how to equip our municipal members to effectively handle this issue.


While efforts have been launched to better understand the opioid epidemic and its impact, less has been done to assist communities and community leaders on the ground. Members of CONNECT’s Health Working Group identified the need for technical assistance to implement evidence-based practices, educate residents, reduce stigma surrounding substance abuse disorder, and prevent further overdose deaths.

In early 2018, CONNECT and ACHD received a grant from the Heinz Endowments to fund a Community Overdose Response Manager to bring additional capacity to our members. In order to develop the scope of work for the position, CONNECT surveyed its members to determine their priorities. The top four actions that were identified as desired by the municipalities were: 

1. Bring prevention education that works for young people through School Districts or other channels.

2. Collect and share information with residents about accessible, high-quality drug and alcohol treatment options.

3. Share best practices from other municipalities in PA and beyond.

4. Support multi-municipal coalition building to form a cross-sector, sustainable response to the epidemic

In February 2018, JoEllen Marsh was hired in the new position, and has been working with our members to provide guidance and to serve as a bridge between municipal leaders and community agencies poised to assist in this effort, including grass-roots organizations that work with substance abuse disorder and the emerging population of family members who have lost loved ones and want to engage in prevention efforts. 




ACHD and DHS published a full report in July 2016 on Opiate-Related Overdose Deaths in Allegheny County: Risks and Opportunities for Intervention, with an Executive Summary available here.


In addition to the extensive work done by the County on the opioid epidemic, the County Health Department has created a site to help municipal leaders, residents, parents, and more, learn more about opioids and the resources that are available.

More resources from our Community Overdose Response Manager, JoEllen Marsh, are forthcoming!

Live Well Allegheny

Healthy communities are at the heart of our work. In 2016, CONNECT passed our first health related Resolution, encouraging our members to become Live Well Allegheny (LWA) by indicating their intent to work with ACHD to accomplish the goals of the campaign by identifying action steps to take to promote health in their municipality.

What preceded the passing of this resolution was the development of a newly-formed partnership between CONNECT and the Allegheny County Health Department. Through our Health Working Group, representatives of CONNECT, ACHD, DHS, the Center for Emergency Medicine at UPMC, the Allegheny County Health Network, and the Allegheny County EMS Council met to discuss a variety of health-related issues.

Erica Bryson and Hannah Hardy of the Allegheny County Health Department presented at CONNECT's November 2016 Executive Committee meeting to give a LWA update, and to provide CONNECT members with the LWA: Menu of Action Steps for Municipalities. The resource sheet provides model ordinances and examples of how some communities are addressing tobacco prevention, nutrition, physical activity, and land use with helpful links.  

If you are interested in learning more about CONNECT’s work with Health or would like to join the Health Working Group, please contact Kristen Michaels at

Partner Organizations:
Allegheny County Health Department
Allegheny County Department of Human Services
Allegheny County EMS Council
UPMC Center for Emergency Medicine

Click here for a list of all resolutions passed by CONNECT that pertain to our work in health-related policies.