At the beginning of Rep. Eric Roe's town hall meeting on Jan. 25, he invited Kathy Collier, program specialist with Chester County's Department of Drug & Alcohol Services, to talk about her department's work to combat the much-discussed opioid epidemic.
She was a frank and compelling speaker, and her statistics from the front line were stark: in 2017 there were 133 accidental drug overdose deaths in Chester County, and opiates were involved in the majority of them. That's an increase of 35.7 percent over 2016, and she doesn't think the numbers have yet peaked.
She said the number-one cause of the epidemic, which started in 2010, is the "staggering" prevalence of prescription pain medications. Physicians are more likely to write the scripts routinely, she explained, because pain is now used as a metric for their performance evaluations. And for people with a genetic predilection for addiction, taking the strong prescription drugs can put them on that dangerous path.
Ms. Collier advised that one way to stop the diversion of pain meds to family members and even visitors is for people to drop their unused medications in one of the 23 collection boxes at police stations around the county. (The closest ones to us are the Kennett Square police department, 115 N. Broad St., and the Southern Chester County Regional Police Department on Route 41, near the Newark Road intersection [8934 Gap Newport Pike]).
Once people become addicted, they may turn to street drugs like heroin because it's actually less expensive than buying pills.
"We have some of the cheapest and purest heroin in the U.S. right here in Chester County," Ms. Collier said. No longer do addicts need to go to inner cities or shoot up to get high, which might previously have been barriers. Today, dealers are plentiful in the suburbs, she said, and the heroin is so pure and strong that it can be snorted.
She said part of her department's mission is to spread the word that recovery from addiction is possible and that treatment is available and accessible, even for uninsured people. She said she often has to serve as an advocate for people whose insurance companies try to deny coverage for addiction treatment.
"This is a physical, medical issue," she said.
The Drug and Alcohol Department can be reached through the Chester County website, www.chesco.org.