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PA Sec. of Drug and Alcohol: Heroin Problem ‘Worst Epidemic in Last Century’

TAMAQUA — Concerns over heroin overdoses in the Commonwealth now has the state’s drug and alcohol secretary calling this the worst epidemic in the l...
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TAMAQUA -- Concerns over heroin overdoses in the Commonwealth now has the state's drug and alcohol secretary calling this the worst epidemic in the last century.

That harsh assessment was delivered at a town meeting in Schuylkill County Wednesday night.

Overcome with grief, Georgiann McKay of Tamaqua cried when talking about the loss of her 25-year-old son Kevin, who died from a heroin overdose in December.

“My son, I cry every day about my son,” said McKay. “I go to the cemetery every day. I do nothing but cry. If I find out whoever did this to my son, gave him this stuff, believe me, they'd be locked up in jail.”

That's why McKay and her friend Michelle Mehallic joined dozens of others concerned about the rise in heroin overdoses at Tamaqua Area Middle School on Wednesday for a town hall discussion on the epidemic.

“It's destroying a lot of people's lives. It's destroying these kids' lives. It's destroying their parents' lives,” said Mehallic.

The panel of speakers included state and local leaders, including the secretary of the state's drug and alcohol programs, Gary Tennis, who had a frightening assessment of the heroin problem.

“This is the worst healthcare epidemic, healthcare crisis, in not just in our lifetimes, in the last 100 years. The last time we had an epidemic of this severity was the great flu epidemic of 1918,” said Tennis.

The state's physician general says in 2014, roughly 2,500 Pennsylvanians died from heroin and the deaths are expected to increase for 2015 and 2016.

Dr. Rachel Levine believes the rise in deaths is because those once addicted to prescription painkillers are switching to the less expensive heroin.

“Unfortunately on many street corners in Pennsylvania, heroin can be bought for five to ten dollars,” said Dr. Levine.

Kelly Boerner says that's exactly how her son became addicted to heroin.

“A lot of times, it's not something they chose. It comes from painkillers they started on through an injury.”