‘We can’t arrest this problem away,’ he said
By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times
The county’s chief law-enforcement officer had positive and negative updates on the heroin epidemic that has infiltrated the area.
Addressing a meeting of Kacie’s Cause, an advocacy group founded by Andy Rumford, a Kennett Square father who lost his 23-year-old daughter to a heroin overdose earlier this year, Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan said the drug has become cheaper and more prevalent as Mexican suppliers are replacing cocaine with heroin to increase profits. “They can produce more addicts,” he explained.
But Hogan told an audience of about 50 at the New Garden Township building that progress in fighting the scourge has occurred. While deaths from overdoses continue to spike in Philadelphia and Delaware Counties, Chester County has seen a decrease, he said.
Hogan said it is generally understood among prosecutors that when a drug-user calls 9-1-1 to report an overdose, they will not be charged for possessing drugs or drug paraphernalia. However, drug users don’t know that and may be reluctant to call for life-saving help, he said.
As a result, Hogan said he approached State Sen. Dominic Pileggi to request Good Samaritan legislation, similar to what many states already have, to provide limited immunity to those who summon help. He said that Pileggi was receptive, which means the law will likely happen within the next year. “That is a done deal when Sen. Pileggi is behind it,” Hogan said.
Hogan said many addicts get their start from opiates in home medicine cabinets, where a relative may have leftover Percocet or Vicodin from an injury or surgery. “Kids start there, get addicted, and move to heroin,” Hogan said, stressing that it is important for residents to dispose of unused prescriptions.
He said the twice-a-year collections hosted by area police departments are not enough, and he plans to install drop boxes in 10 county locations, including New Garden Township, so that people can safely dispose of drugs at any time.
Hogan also encouraged parents to stay involved with their children and monitor their activities, their cell phones, and their computers. “We can’t arrest this problem away,” he said. He said a collaborative approach between citizens and law enforcement is needed.
Bob Hodgkiss, whose 22-year EMT career included stints in Wilmington and Chester, said when he came to Chester County in 1991, heroin overdoses were rare. “Don’t kid yourself; it’s not just a city drug,” he said. “It’s out here.” He said the drug doesn’t discriminate with users coming from “the big houses, little houses, trailers.”
Hodgkiss said one tool that paramedics have been able to use successfully is Narcan, which he described as “the best medicine Du Pont ever made.” He said the drug, which is sprayed in the nostrils, could reverse the effects of an overdose if administered in time.
Dr. Marc D. Grobman, a Wilmington internist who specializes in treating opioid dependence, said one of the challenges of treating drug dependence is recognizing that it’s a “chronic illness that requires chronic treatment.” He said there’s “no way of telling who will get addicted … our brains are wired differently.”
Luis Tovar, a member of the Kacie’s Cause team who led the meeting, corrected himself when he said he was the father of a 22-year-old heroin addict. “We need to get away from that word,” he said. “It prevents other people from realizing it’s a disease.” Tovar said Kacie’s Cause is now running a weekly support group from 7 to 9 p.m. at First Baptist Church in Kennett Square for families who have been impacted by substance abuse and related behaviors.
Rumford said that not a day goes by that he doesn’t mourn the loss of his daughter, Kacie Erin Rumford, but that he gains some solace from the knowledge that she wanted to help others. Kacie’s Cause began as a way to honor her wish, he said. “This drug simply won’t vanish,” he said, urging people to distribute brochures and become allies in the fight to end the scourge. Kacie’s Cause chapters have been organized in Oxford, Parkesburg and Honey Brook, and he said he hoped to see one form in New Garden as well. For more information on Rumford’s crusade to prevent others from experiencing his tragedy, visit www.kaciescause.com.