Pubdate: Sat, 08 Sep 2012
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA)
Copyright: 2012 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc
Author: Mari A. Schaefer


Alarmed by a surge in heroin deaths, Delaware County officials joined
together for the first time Friday to attack a problem they see
devastating families and communities.

There were 33 heroin-related deaths in the county in the first six
months of the year. In 2011, there were 62 deaths, and in 2010 there
were 50, said Frederic Hellman, the county's medical examiner and a
member of a task force newly appointed to address the issue.

In contrast, there has been one heroin death in Chester County. In
2011, that county saw 13 deaths where heroin was involved, and four in

As recently as 2007, there were as few as 19 heroin deaths in Delaware
County, Hellman said.

The recent increase in deaths, Hellman said, reflects an overall
increase in heroin use in the county. "I see the people who die," he

"Heroin is a real problem with us," District Attorney Jack Whelan said
this week. He said the power of the drug is overwhelming: "You are
either addicted or dead."

The task force includes representatives from law enforcement and
behavioral and intercommunity health departments, the medical
examiner, and other county officials. It met Friday to begin
developing prevention and awareness strategies.

The drug knows no boundaries, officials said. The deaths are just as
likely to be in well-to-do households as not. The deaths have occurred
throughout the county.

"These are good families where kids are making bad choices," said
Marianne Grace, the county's executive director. She said the task
force will begin to target the county's middle and high schools with
prevention and educational programs.

Hellman said the signs of heroin use can be very subtle: a slight
change in behavior, a slip in grades, missing money.

In September 2011, Hellman said, one death involved a 19-year-old
college student home from school who had no known history of drug
abuse. She was found dead in her bedroom by her parents after
attending a friend's birthday party.

"We are seeing people start much younger with prescription painkillers
and then transition to heroin," said Kim Bowman, deputy director of
the state's newly created Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs.
About one-third of all treatment admissions are for heroin and opiate
use, she said. The state does not specifically track heroin deaths,
she said.

Seventeen deaths have been reported across Upper Darby in the last 18
months, said Michael J. Chitwood, superintendent of police. One reason
for the drug's popularity is the cheap street price; about three to
four bags for $20, compared with $25 for a single pill of the
prescription drug Percocet or OxyContin, he said.

"There are no open-air drug corners," Chitwood said. Typically the
drug buys are made by phone and delivered. Dealers are coming from
Philadelphia into the suburbs, he said. Most of the users are white
and between 18 and 50 years of age, Chitwood said.

The number of deaths would be much higher if not for paramedics who
carry Narcan, a drug used to reverse the effects of the overdose, he
said: "I can't tell you how many they bring back from death's doorstep."
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