Doylestown, located in central Bucks County, is nothing short of picturesque. The old buildings evoke a sense of nostalgia that draws tourists from all over the country. The people are friendly, the shops are small and personal, and the restaurants create unique dining experiences that keep customers coming back for more. But underneath this pretty, nicely decorated band aid of a town, lies a festering wound that only seems to be getting worse: an opioid epidemic is hiding in the shadows of this suburban safe haven.
With 30 years on the force, Central Bucks Chief of Police Karl Knott has seen his share of drug crises. "In all of my years, I’ve never seen an epidemic this bad,” he said. “The only one I could even consider coming close to this one would have to be the crack cocaine epidemic.”
District Attorney Matthew Weintraub agreed with Knott, noting that in his 25 years he’s never seen something this bad besides the crack cocaine epidemic. Doylestown started feeling the effects of this opioid epidemic in 2010. "It was around then that we started responding to more and more overdose calls,” Knott explained.
As of 2017, there’s been 231 drug overdoses throughout Bucks County, with numbers getting higher at an alarming speed. "When you’re looking at this in numbers, it’s easy to become a little desensitized. But when you’re there on the scene of an overdose, it’s hard to emotionally detach yourself,” Knott admitted.
“Some of the most heartbreaking cases are when we get there and it’s someone we’ve already responded to before,” Knott said. “You see the person we saved once before [who] promised they were going to get better, but then there we are and we can’t even do anything because they’re already dead. That’s the most frustrating and the most heartbreaking.”
Weintraub also admitted to having cases when it’s hard to put emotions aside. “Any case where a mother accidentally kills her child is one that I have trouble dealing with,” he lamented. “Just recently we had a mother give birth in a hotel room because she didn’t want her baby to be taken away due to her addiction. The baby ended up dying that same night.”
Heart-wrenching instances like Knoll’s and Weintraub’s that prompted Weintraub to call for funding for longer treatment stays, after-treatment follow up, and transportation to and from treatment centers.
Robert Whitley, an attorney based out of Doylestown, agrees with Knoll and Weintraub. He found that since 2017, Bucks County has averaged two overdoses every three days. This prompted him to establish truthspeaks.net, a website that encourages the community to come together to combat this opioid epidemic by erasing the stigma surrounding addiction.
But for the community to come together, they need to recognize the issue as the threat it is– something people in Doylestown are failing to do. The overdoses in this town are considered “out of left field”, because they happened “Good Kids” and “Star Students” who just didn’t fit the bill for drug addicts.
Thanks to this misconception and the stigma around addiction, we’ve seen the tragic fates of young people like Kaitlyn Murphy, a soccer star from CB South who lost her battle to addiction in 2012.
My own brother, a CB West graduate, lost his battle at 22, and I can confidently say that neither of my parents saw it coming. My parents loved my brother very much, there was no neglect or an unwillingness to recognize the problem, but my parents did unfortunately fall victim to the notion that their personable and charming son in the upper-middle class could be an addict.
However it’s not just parents that need to become privy to the idea that addiction can happen to anybody: students need to be educated as well. “I think schools need to do more constant and consistent education on this topic,” Weintraub said.
“A once-in-a-while assembly isn’t enough. While they are educational and informative, they need to be reinforced and happen more consistently.” We’ve lost straight-A students on the path of success because this affluent community is failing to realize that there is no stereotype for an addict: it can happen to anyone, anywhere, regardless of home life or socioeconomic status. “This isn’t a matter of drugs coming in from the city anymore,” Lt. Knott said. “This is a matter of things happening right in our own backyards.”
Unfortunately, in an affluent area like this, there’s a reputation to uphold. This attitude has not only made it harder to recognize or admit to addiction, but it has created barriers to the solutions.
“Because of the stigmas around here that surround addiction, it affects where we can open halfway houses, treatment centers, and recovery houses too, because no one wants them in their neighborhoods,” Weintraub said. “Every successful treatment means one less person suffering, and potentially one less person for the criminal justice system to deal with. I believe in safe spaces for treatment.”
Although the circumstances may seem grim, Doylestown has taken small steps to ease the effects of this epidemic on the community.
“In 2016 the state legislature allowed us to start carrying the lifesaving drug narcan, which has just really been a godsend to help first responders like us who are there immediately even before EMS to help be able to save a life,” Knott said. Narcan is a nasal spray that can help reverse the effects of a drug overdose. Both Central Bucks Police and Central Bucks EMS carry the lifesaving drug.
Another effort began in 2014, when Weintraub started a drug take back program, “A big step we as a community need to take is getting rid of our old prescription drugs,” Weintraub said.
Since its establishment, Weintraub’s take-back program has been surpassing similar initiatives in the state by a landslide, with over 116,000 pounds of old prescription pills collected to date.
Doylestown Health, the borough’s main hospital, has also declared themselves a “narcotic responsible hospital”. The program was started a few years ago to manage the prescribing of narcotics in the hospital’s emergency department, so that patient’s pain can be handled accordingly but they can also be shown non-narcotic alternatives.
“I am cautiously optimistic that that trend may be slowing down,” Weintraub said. “ At the halfway mark of 2018 we’ve had 100 opioid overdose fatalities. Same timeframe last year, we had 117. Too soon to tell, but I am hopeful that we’ve bottomed out.”