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Heroin Task Force presents first public forum on prescription drug abuse

The heart-wrenching story of a school principal who lost his son to drugs and the first-person story of a woman’s heroin addiction gripped the attention of parents attending the first Community Forum on Prescription Drug Abuse presented by the Delaware County Heroin Task Force. About 50 people attended the forum, presented May 9 at the Upper Darby Performing Arts Center at Upper Darby High School.

Headed by District Attorney Jack Whelan and County Council, the Heroin Task Force was formed in September, 2012, to raise awareness about the prescription drug and heroin epidemic impacting the nation and the county.“This can happen to any good child and any A-plus student who has a great group of friends and comes from a great family,” cautioned Dr. Richard Dunlap, whose son, Tim, lost his battle with addition in 2009. “Tim was a good kid, who made poor decisions.”

The forum was offered by the Heroin Task Force to educate the public on this growing epidemic. Members of the panel included District Attorney Whelan, Dr. Dunlap, Delaware County Council members Mario J. Civera Jr. and Dave White, Executive Director Marianne Grace, Upper Darby Police Superintendent Mike Chitwood and Upper Darby Assistant Superintendent Daniel McGarry.Panelists said it is becoming all too common that students, beginning in middle school, are using drugs. The problem often begins when a child or teen finds prescription drugs in their home which are no longer being used by a parent, sibling or relative. These prescription drugs are often pain killers such as Percocet and Vicodin.

Last year in Delaware County, there were 50 heroin-related deaths and a total of 119 drug-related deaths. “This is a story we hear all too often in the District Attorney’s office,” said District Attorney Whelan. “It is also a story heard all too often in the Medical Examiner’s office as well.”The forum started with a video detailing “Angela’s Story,” the harrowing true story of a young Delaware County woman who overcame her addiction to prescription drugs and heroin. In a videotaped interview with a representative from the District Attorney’s office, “Angela” tells how her prescription drug addiction led to heroin use. She explained the effects prescription drugs had on her, how powerful her addiction was, the problems she faced, and the family she had lost at the time.She explained how when she could no longer afford her prescription drug habit, she turned to heroin because it was cheaper, more effective and a quicker high. Audience members were visibly moved by “Angela’s Story.” The woman finally sought help. She is now clean, sober and has her life back. Her simple words to people are: “Just don’t do drugs.”

Residents also heard from Dr. Dunlap, a father and principal at West Chester East High School, who detailed the impact on his family of losing their son, Tim, drugs. As Dr. Dunlap spoke, Tim’s story was demonstrated to the audience with photographs of Tim at different stages of his life. Tim’s drug use started in sixth grade and escalated from there. When Tim graduated from high School, he attended West Chester University and “things only went downhill from there,” his father said.Dr. Dunlap said there were increasing signs of drug use such as weight loss, slurred speech and a change in sleeping habits. The most defining incident was when Tim didn’t try out for the West Chester University football team when football was one of the reasons he attended the university. He later failed out of his freshman year of college. Dr. Dunlap said his family tried to deal with this together, helping Tim through treatment and taking care of him every step of the way.

“My family’s lives were changed the day Tim died from his addiction. The year Tim died, 12 of his 13 closest friends put themselves in rehab for prescription drug use,” the father said. Shortly after his son’s death, Dunlap began to speak to audiences, especially in schools, about his son’s addiction and how his family overcame their loss. “This is not just an epidemic, this is a pandemic,” Dunlap said. “This is not just in the Upper Darby School District (where the forum was held), it’s everywhere and it’s your good kids, making poor decisions.” The public forum is just one aspect of the education and awareness activities of the Delaware County Heroin Task Force.

The Task Force offers the program, “Realities of Prescription Drugs and Heroin Abuse,” to all school communities. To schedule a presentation, school officials can contact the District Attorney’s office at 610-891-4163. There is also an informational brochure, available from the Task Force or it can be downloaded from the Delaware County website at www.co.delaware.pa.us.