Heroin’s stranglehold on PA youth

Heroin being cooked.

Wikimedia Commons/Hendrike

Heroin being cooked.

Christina Klos and Dominique Stango, Centurion Staff

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A recent string of heroin overdoses in Bucks County has prompted the District Attorney’s office to action, and to call on the community for support in battling against drug abuse.

This heroin epidemic is now being referred to as a “hometown crisis.” In late February, two men, ages 18 and 20, from the Central-Bucks area were charged with selling heroin from their Doylestown apartment.

Another major heroin bust occurred in late March. Three people from Warrington Township were charged after police searched an apartment on the 500 block of Easton Road in Warrington Township, and found 250 bags of heroin.

The Warminster and Warrington townships police departments cooperated as a part of the Bucks County District Attorney’s “Heroin Initiative,” myfoxphilly.com reported.

Pennsylvania’s number of drug-related deaths exceeds the national average, and it has the 14th highest drug overdose mortality rate in the US, according to Trust for America’s Health.

At an open house hosted by the Central Bucks Regional Police Department in late February, Police Chief James Donnelly said despite crime rates being the lowest they’ve been in years for Doylestown and New Britain boroughs, tackling the area’s drug problem remains a top priority for the department.

Heroin, crack cocaine and marijuana are the most available illegal drugs in Pennsylvania, says the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).

On March 23, as a part of the DA’s “Heroin Initiative” a community meeting was held at William Tennent High School to discuss what the DA’s office and law enforcement are doing to reign in drug abuse in the county, as well as, what the community can do, too.

Matt Weintraub, chief deputy district attorney of Bucks County; County Detective Tim Carol; and Steve Derner, from Network of Victim Assistance (NOVA) hosted the meeting.

From prescription pills to heroin

Teens who become addicted to heroin are often first introduced to opiates in the form of prescription painkillers, easily accessible via household medicine cabinets.

With similar effects on the body and mind, opiate painkillers are often the beginning steps to heroin usage. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse many heroin users have used prescription painkillers prior to using heroin.

Due to their addictive-nature and high cost, prescription pills, like Oxytocin and Percocet, many teens and young adults quickly turn to heroin as a cheap alternative to get their fix. Both are derived from opium, but heroin also contains many additives, increasing the drug’s deadliness.

Weintraub shared that a popular additive, fentanyl is used to make heroin appear more potent. On occasion, drug dealers have been known to add large amounts of fentanyl with the intention of killing some users so that their brand name is believed to be strong, according to Weintraub.

Once such large doses of fentanyl hit the bloodstream, users die in seconds before they even take the needle out of their arm.

Weintraub listed off the names of a few heroin brands containing large amounts of fentanyl: Handicap, Wakeup, Budlight, Obama-care, Sugar House, Kiss of Death, and Call Me.

Prevention, support and education

The hope is, through the combined efforts of law enforcement, community support groups, and parents, Bucks County will be able to break this cycle of drug abuse.

“I’m not a quitter, I feel empowered. I don’t know if we can win, but we can never quit,” said Weintraub.

The Network of Victim Assistance (NOVA) can help individuals and families struggling with heroin addiction. Help can be reached through their 24-hour helpline 1-800-221-6333.

Derner advised the community to “empower kids, listen to instinct, be assertive, trust your gut, raise awareness, and teach kids the importance of intervention.”

Local law enforcement benefits greatly from community feedback, especially in cases involving drugs. Anonymous tips can be reported by calling 215-345-3784, emailing [email protected], or texting your tip to 847411 with the phrase “BUCKSDRUGTIPS.”
“Anonymous tips are a helpful way for us to help fight heroin,” said Upper Southampton chief of police Ronald MacPherson. He asks that the community to reach out through anonymous tips or through NOVA’s 24-hour helpline.

“Drugs work in a cycle, right now its heroin’s turn… I see a few over doses a month, most are teenagers and young adults recently out of high school,” said MacPherson.

To help keep prescription drugs out of the hands of teenagers, it is advised to drop off any old prescription pills at the drug take back boxes located at all police stations within Bucks County.

To help prevent heroin use, Weintraub says it’s important for parents to talk with their children about drugs daily. It’s dangerous to assume children and teenagers already know that all drugs are bad.

“If you child doesn’t seem to be the child you know, something is wrong,” Weintraub said.

A few parents brought their children to the meeting held on March 23.

Jameson Molloy, a fifth grader, found this community meeting to be informative and “scary, but in a good way… I literally felt ill and was about to cry…”

Sixth grader, Katie Malloy, agreed with her brother saying, “It’s very useful and I think more people should have came and brought their kids… I’m going to tell my friends what I learned.”

Another sixth grader, Marissa Koehnlein, said she wished her health class had taught them more about the dangers of their parent’s medicine and what heroin really does.

She said her and Molloy plan to tell their principal and discuss a change in their health class’s discussion on illegal drug use.

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