In June, I learned that a local 20-something year old CHS graduate had committed suicide. Although I did not know the young man personally, I was told that he suffered from depression, drug addiction and was on probation through the courts. Having attended the funeral of his friend, another young man, himself a Conestoga graduate, sent me an email.
Overcome with grief over losing his close friend from high school, and looking for answers, his email read in part,
I’ve been struggling with addiction for 5 years now. I know that people need to get it on their own, but I mean trying to educate them before this happens. If I saw a fellow peer talk about how he/she just started out experimenting with drugs and eventually led to what it led to for me who knows what I would have done differently.
The problem is hard drugs have been normalized in the high school and almost glorified because they don’t see what happens when they are a little older and all of their friends are dying.
We have 15-year-old girls in Conestoga that are shooting heroin! It’s absolute insanity. Something needs to be done; we just lost ANOTHER graduate, one of my best friends, 3 days ago to this stuff.
The young man who sent me this email told me that had sent an email to the T/E School Board asking for their help with the drug problem in the schools.
Last year, Chester County officials released the statistics report on fatal heroin overdoses in the county. Since 1999, the overdose death rate in Chester County has doubled with 24 overdose deaths in 2013, with victims ranging from 21 to 79 years old. Fourteen were men and 10 were women. The report indicated that 18 of the fatal overdoses or approximately seventy-five percent, both heroin and prescription drugs were involved.
When the statistics were released, Chester County DA Tom Hogan stated, “One clear trend from these statistics is that prescription drug abuse is a gateway to a heroin overdose. Heroin does not discriminate. It is a deadly drug that is abused by young and old, poor and rich, white and black. Nobody is safe. There are students in every high school in Chester County who are using heroin, from Conestoga to Coatesville, from Unionville to Oxford.”
In 2014, we learned of the arrest of 11 people involved in the ‘Main Line Take Over Project’, a drug trafficking ring. Two Haverford School graduates were the drug operation kingpins and hired students at main line high schools, including Conestoga, Radnor and Lower Merion as their drug peddlers. Every child is at risk. According to experts, those with risk factors, such as a family history of mental illness or addiction, have a greater chance of becoming addicted.
Alcoholism and drug addiction is a disease. People are suffering from this disease and dying from this disease every day. We really can’t do anything as a society to help those people until we start talking about it.
I received the following statement from T/E School Board Director Liz Mercogliano with a request to add it to Community Matters:
Rescue for Overdose
My name is Liz Mercogliano. I serve as a current T/E school board director. I also have practiced psychiatric nursing since 1984. I am a practicing Realtor and lawyer.
I wanted to share the facts on overdose and/or harm to self or suicide. At T/E, I support giving our students mental and emotional support. Every year we lose a child to suicide or overdose. Overdose can happen in a second with prescription, legal and illegal drugs.
Many students and families are not familiar with the signs and symptoms of psychiatric disease or the fact that everyone has different levels of depressions throughout their lives. As a result, there are accidental overdoses as well as serious unidentified clinical depressions that may lead to suicide.
Please realize depression is treatable and many overdose accidents result in life changing events for the individual. The right thing to do is to help those who need our help. This help includes identifying persons at risk and offering professional help. This is not a small matter in our community. When it happens to you or a loved one, find help. In my mind, EMTs and the ability to reverse the overdose will make our community a better place.
Saving lives is the answer. Provide mental and emotional support all the sick whether it is a traditional medical disease or drug or alcohol disease.
Liz Mercogliano, RN, Esquire
T/E School Board Director