Saturday, February 21, 2015
Bucks County DA hopes new PSA gets out the word: Heroin kills
Posted: Thursday, February 19, 2015
Her name is Maggie. She is a heroin mom.
She talks about what that is like with the same ease that a soccer mom or band mom might. She has lived with the description for seven years, since her only child became addicted first to prescription painkillers, then heroin.
But Maggie doesn’t want your sympathy. She wants to warn you.
“Anybody, absolutely anybody, is at risk to become a drug addict,” Maggie tells viewers in one of two newly released public service announcements.
At age 21, her daughter went to the dentist with a toothache. The doctor gave her Percocet. Two weeks later, she was in the emergency room with a kidney infection. The doctor gave her more Percocet.
Recently, her 28-year-old daughter finished her seventh stint in rehab. Maggie is hopeful she will stay clean this time — hopeful, but not confident.
Last summer her daughter entered rehab for a sixth time while Maggie, a Delaware County resident, was filming public service announcements as part of “Heroin Kills,” a Bucks County district attorney initiative started last year.
On Thursday, the videos — one roughly 1 minute, the other 10 minutes — debuted at Bucks County Technical High School in Bristol Township before an audience of about 100 teens. Tech school students and teachers helped film and edit the PSAs, which will be distributed locally.
TV production veteran and Bensalem resident Frank Goldstein produced the “Heroin Kills” videos. There is additional film footage and video projects undergoing the editing process for future release, he said.
The PSAs are considered a significant public education addition to ongoing initiatives the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office announced last March to address a recent increase in heroin distribution, overdoses and deaths in the county and elsewhere.The efforts include more-aggressive pursuit of heroin dealers and distributors and the creation of an anonymous drug tip line.
Like elsewhere in Pennsylvania and the United States, heroin abuse has become epidemic in Bucks County.
Last year, heroin was the primary drug of use for half of all addicts in the county seeking government assistance for rehab, according to county statistics. Until recently, alcohol had that distinction. The number of heroin addicts seeking help in Bucks was up nearly 5 percent in 2014.
Decades ago, heroin was the one drug you didn’t touch, District Attorney David Heckler told the audience Thursday. But synthetic opiate prescription pain medications, which are virtually identical to natural heroin, were a game changer.
Drug abuse experts believe the spike in heroin addiction over the last decade is directly related to the availability of prescription painkillers. When they can no longer afford the painkillers, addicts turn to heroin as a cheaper way to achieve a high or prevent painful withdrawal symptoms.
“Once you get hooked, you get the high, after a few times you are chasing the high,” Heckler said.
After Maggie’s story was shown Thursday, the teen audience was encouraged to spread the word about the video posted on YouTube. Since it was posted last week on the online video sharing site, it has generated more than 2,000 views. Goldstein wants it to go viral.
“If you save one life, you save the world,” Goldstein said.
Bucks County Chief of Prosecution Matt Weintraub is the one who brought Maggie into the video project after hearing her speak at an educational outreach session in Warminster, where he was also appearing to talk about heroin.
Maggie started telling her story after her employer, PECO Energy, started a community outreach education program. She suggested educating parents about drug addiction should be a priority and volunteered to share her story.
On Thursday, Weintraub said the best way to attack the heroin scourge is by taking the message directly to children and teens.
Goldstein and the district attorney are working toward getting regional TV stations and cable companies to air the shorter video as part of its regular PSA rotation. The videos will also be distributed to local cable access channels used by government and school entities as well as schools and other community and youth organizations.
“Heroin is very real. It’s out there,” Weintraub said. “It’s poison. It consumes you from the inside out.”
Not just the addict, either. Heroin consumes everything around it, as Maggie explained in the black-and-white videos about her family’s life since heroin became part of it.
Afterward, she admitted holding back on some of the more graphic details, but not by much.
She talked about her daughter’s rapidly declining health: the abscess infections on her arms and thighs as a result of repeat injecting, collapsed veins, and how even her voice has changed from baby soft to a loose gravel rasp.
Maggie left out of the video the part about venereal diseases. It’s a hard truth that female heroin addicts — yes, including her daughter — sell their bodies in exchange for the drug or money to buy it.
In the extended video, she ticked off all the things she said her daughter has stolen: thousands of dollars, pennies, wedding bands, Maggie’s dead sister’s pearl necklace, GPS units, EZ-Passes, a computer, an iPad, gaming systems, silver and gold wire from her father’s workshop that he uses for his job, and her son’s fundraising box of candy.
Once, she returned all the groceries that Maggie just bought to the supermarket and used the refund to buy drugs, Maggie said.
Her credit was ruined because of her daughter, who wrote bad checks on her bank account resulting in legal problems for Maggie. At age 47, Maggie has full custody of her three grandchildren, ages 6, 7 and 10, who were recently diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
For her daughter, it might be too late, Maggie worries. But it’s not too late for others.
When their daughter was younger, Maggie and her husband didn’t talk to her about drugs beyond the typical don’t do them speech. She and her husband never used illegal drugs. They led by example, and thought it was enough, she said.
But the children of parents who regularly talk to their kids about drugs are 42 percent less likely to use drugs, a statistic Maggie uses in the video. She followed that statistic with this one: Only 25 percent of kids report having these conversations with their parents.
Today, Maggie said she talks to her grandchildren — and her daughter — about drugs every day. But she and her husband still don’t understand why their daughter can’t kick heroin for good.
“I can’t even give you a reason why she still uses,” Maggie said.