Public Health Forum

A concerned citizen

The opioid epidemic took center stage at Talley Middle school in a presentation by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and atTacK addiction, a non-profit addiction awareness organization.

Leading off was an informative lecture from Group Supervisor for the Intelligence Group in Philadelphia for the DEA, Steve Denhup.

He explained that the heroin capital may be 30 miles north of Wilmington, in Philadelphia, but that the problem still hits close to home.

He pointed to a bust in June, when an entire tunnel of drugs and labs were discovered underneath a Bear-area residence.

VIDEO | Not your average drug bust: Federal agents find drug tunnel underneath Bear-area home

While that bust was found to be in connection to the Mexican Sinaloa cartel, Denhup also eluded to over 130,000 labs in China that are producing the real killer in this epidemic, fentanyl.

"Fentanyl is 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine," noted Denhup. "It's being cut into other supplies and is now the number one killer in Pennsylvania and Delaware."

Re-shippers and drug dealers are using fentanyl to cut product and "make more" to the point where anything from street level marijuana and ecstasy to counterfeit Xanax.

Scarier still, the market for opioids, laced drugs and even fentanyl as a standalone product has not only expanded with demand and a higher profit margin than more organic narcotics, but has also moved into every facet of an easily accessible medium, the internet, Denhup said.

He noted that sales are popular even on Instagram.

Adults and teens alike are reportedly boasting on social media sites about their drug supply and making fewer attempts to hide from plain sight with burner accounts.

Another accessible outlet is what Denhup referred to as "The Dark Web," where cryptocurrency is the means and complete privacy is the way.

"Anyone with the right app can connect," said Denhup. "Your computer's address goes through thousands of servers worldwide and is virtually untraceable."

Denhup said there are more officers working diligently and who now have more training in the likes of cyber crime units in the Philadelphia area.

Dave Humes, a board member of atTacK addiction, who lost his son, Greg, to an accidental overdose also spoke at Tuesday night's forum.

The Humes family were advocates of the "911 Good Samaritan" law that gives amnesty to callers to emergency services in cases of medical emergencies like overdoses and incidents of underage drinking.

Humes stressed the importance of not overlooking what he called "the public health crisis of the 21st century."

"The four worst words you can say are 'not in my community,'" said Humes. "The three worst words are 'not my child.'"

Humes and the next speaker, Don Keister share a heavy heart.

Don's son Tyler was also lost to an overdose. Tyler played on a state championship football team at Caravel Academy, where his father is headmaster, and was recruited to play college ball, but even after going through a successful rehab, was claimed by a single incident of drug use.

Humes and Keister both point to the more than 640,000 overdose deaths in America since 2002 and are on a mission to bring awareness to the public.

To wrap things up, Talley Middle School's principal, Mark Mayer, opened up the floor to questions and was met with mixed reactions.

Concerned parents questioned why they weren't seeing more to fight this epidemic on the front line.

"What I can speak to at the middle school level is that our sixth, seventh and eighth graders, in their health and physical education classes, are getting particular educational programming that is age appropriate for them," said Mayer.

"I believe from our board of education and our superintendent, Dr. Holodick, they understand that we--as a school district--need to improve our program and make sure it is current so that our teachers and adults in the buildings can help and continue to educate our kids to make good choices."

Denhup noted that the DEA has worked with The Discovery Channel on a curriculum called Operation Prevention that is making its way into local schools, starting with the Brandywine School District.

All four speakers hit on the importance of staying connected to children and gave them easy ways to communicate to their parents or guardians and keep them in the loop because "even good kids do bad things," added Humes.

Along that line, they stressed the importance of monitoring children and teen's social media accounts as the threat of addiction is not only real for every child, but more easily accessible than ever before.

WDEL's jack of many trades, Kevin is a hybrid news/sports reporter and anchor. On top of being the Education reporter for your trusted source for news, Kevin is a USMC veteran, Camden County College and Temple University journalism alumni.