Delaware county leads in the fight against heroin deaths
Media, PA-- Delaware County remains the only county in Pennsylvania to have implemented a county-wide nasal naloxone program for law enforcement, and has since become a model for the state. Yesterday the administration of Gov. Tom Wolf announced that Pennsylvania State Police will soon be carrying naloxone. Commonly known as Narcan, naloxone is a drug that can reverse an opiate overdose and bring an unresponsive person back to life. Since the law went into effect five months ago, Delaware County police have made 32 saves with naloxone, administered to those suffering from an opioid drug overdose.
Just over a year ago, in March 2014, Delaware County Council and District Attorney Jack Whelan stood on the steps of the Delaware County Medical Examiner’s Office joined by members of the Delaware County Heroin Task Force and Delaware County police chiefs to pledge their support for the legislation that would change state law and permit police officers in Pennsylvania to carry and administer naloxone. In response to Delaware County’s call to action, Gov. Tom Corbett signed David’s Law in September 2014. When the law went into effect on Nov. 29, Delaware County was ready with the purchase of 900 doses of nasal naloxone by the Delaware County Department of Intercommunity Health, securing two doses for all 400 Delaware County police vehicles.
This public safety initiative comes at a time when a growing number of people are struggling with heroin and prescription drug addiction in Delaware County and across the country. As more people become addicted to prescription painkillers, they turn to cheaper and readily available heroin. Over the past five years, Delaware County has had nearly 300 heroin-related deaths which is more than is lost to car accidents and gun violence. Last year there were 52 heroin-related deaths. Since the start of 2015, there have been 8 heroin-related deaths in Delaware County according to the Delaware County medical examiner.
District Attorney Jack Whelan noted that the success of the naloxone initiative along with other efforts to reduce heroin use was made possible through the partnership between law enforcement, the community and coalition members, behavioral health members and educators that is exemplified by the Delaware County Heroin Task Force which was formed in September 2012.
“In Delaware County we are extremely fortunate to have strong partnerships across many fronts that have allowed us to be more successful in our efforts and a have an expansive impact,” said Whelan.
“Our task force is comprised of first responders, healthcare professionals, treatment providers, non-profit organizations, educators, and even a realtor, Ray McKinney of Century 21. Through the professional relator association, he warns homeowners about the potential theft from medicine cabinets during open houses,” said Whelan.
The Task Force was created to combat the growing issue of prescription drug and heroin use after county officials saw an alarming rate of deaths in the county. Over the course of three years, the Task Force has launched several initiatives and formed a broader Heroin Task Force Coalition in response to interest from members of the community. That Coalition, which includes parents, health care professionals, educators, service providers and other concerned citizens, supports the objectives of the Task Force and provides grassroots input on the problem of heroin abuse.
Along with the law enforcement component to reduce drug-related crime, District Attorney Whelan noted the importance of prevention through education and awareness. He said that parents, teachers and community leaders play an important role in educating youth about the dangers of prescription drugs which is why he formed a partnership with the Narcotics Overdose Prevention & Education (NOPE) program. Funded by Delaware County Council, NOPE has reached over 15,000 middle and high school students, in addition to 1,000 community members.
“Our goal is to educate our community about this drug epidemic, bringing awareness to the forefront. The parents, police officers, teachers and community members who volunteer through NOPE have been an invaluable partner in that effort and their emotional stories are making an impact. At the end of the presentation many students seek help from their guidance counselors, either for themselves, or someone they know,” said Whelan.
NOPE’s message is delivered graphically and emotionally from several perspectives. First, from a professional who describes the interaction of drugs on the developing brain, then from a law enforcement official who has the grim task of making death notifications to distraught families and finally, from two family members who have suffered the loss of a child to a drug overdose. Based on true stories, the goal of the presentation is to evoke emotion and grab the attention of the students. .
According to the National Survey on Drug Use & Health, an estimated 2.4 million Americans used prescription drugs non-medically for the first time within the past year, which averages to approximately 6,600 initiates per day. More than a third of those individuals are aged 12 to 17.
Delaware County residents can now join in the fight against the heroin epidemic by disposing their unused or expired prescription drugs from their medicine cabinets at any of the 40 permanent drop boxes that are located at police departments across the county. Every police department in Delaware County that requested a drug drop box now has one, including the county Government Center in Media. To date, more than 4,000 pounds of drugs have been collected and destroyed by the Delaware County District Attorney’s Criminal Investigation Division.
“In Delaware County, we are proactive and wanted to give residents a safe, convenient way to dispose of drugs any time throughout the year,” said Delaware County Councilman Michael Culp, member of the Heroin Task Force.
“We know that these prescription drugs are the target of theft and misuse. Statistics tell us that kids who use drugs say they start by taking a prescription drug non-medically, and they get them from the medicine cabinets of their parents, their grandparents and friends. We want to keep these drugs out of the wrong hands, especially young people.”
Experts warn that parents may not notice that their teenagers, family members or visitors may be sneaking pills out of outdated prescription bottles. People can reduce the risk by securing their medicine cabinets and reducing to only current, unexpired medications, over-the-counter or otherwise. Many residents do not know how to properly dispose of their unused medicine, often flushing them down the toilet or throwing them away, both potential safety and health hazards. For locations of the 40 Delaware County medicine drop boxes, visit www.co.delaware.pa.us.
Residents can also dispose their prescription medications at the upcoming Heroin Task Force Community Day, hosted by the District Attorney Jack Whelan and Delaware County Council set for Sat., April 25 at Rose Tree Park located at 1671 N. Providence Road in Media from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. There will be live entertainment, health and wellness resources, free food and interactive activities for all ages.