Two counselors at an addiction treatment center in Chester County died of opioid overdoses Sunday afternoon, according to a statement issued by Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan.
First responders found the counselors in separate rooms at the Freedom Ridge Recovery Lodge in West Brandywine Township. Both were unresponsive. Needles, baggies and cigarettes littered the scene. The counselors each tested positive for heroin and fentanyl.
Residents at the facility attempted to revive the counselors using naloxone, which reverses the effects of an overdose if administered immediately. Pennsylvania has a standing order that was issued in 2015 by Physician General Rachel Levine that requires every pharmacy to dispense naloxone or narcan to any patient who asks for it. A prescription from a primary care physician is not necessary.
“If anyone is wondering how bad the opioid epidemic has become, this case is a frightening example,” Hogan said in news release. “The staff members in charge of supervising recovery addicts succumbed to their own addiction.”
The counselors lived and worked at the home as on-site counselors with six male residents. The counselors' duties included organizing daily activities for the residents and keeping medications under lock-and-key.
A call seeking comment from the owner of the group home, located in a quiet residential area in West Brandywine, weren't immediately returned Wednesday.
Many addiction counselors are former addicts. It wasn't immediately clear if that was the case for the two who died.
Baggies stamped with a Superman symbol and “danger” logo were found next to the bodies of each counselor. The baggies tested positive for heroin and fentanyl, officials said.
Hogan warned the public to stay away from baggies with those markings, saying they contain drugs “likely to kill anybody who uses them.”
Law enforcement officers weren't even allowed to handle the drugs without special precautions “because of the extreme danger of death or injury,” Hogan said.
Last week, a Philadelphia advocate for safe injection clinics died of a heroin overdose in Kensington. Paul Yabor, a volunteer with Prevention Point, spent the last morning of his life handing out clean needles to heroin users.
By 7:45 p.m. that evening, he was found face down near train tracks favored by drug users.
People recovering from addiction are at especially high risk of overdosing. The danger comes in taking the same dose as they did while using regularly. If their system is clean from drugs, a heavy dose can prove fatal.
"Thank you for your efforts Paul and condolences to your family, friends and all that knew and loved you. Salute," Prevention Point wrote on its Facebook page.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has made fighting the opioid epidemic his top priority.
Speaking at a forum Tuesday, he called addiction the “No. 1 public safety challenge in Pennsylvania.”
"Treatment has to be a part of this," he said. "We have to change the public stigma surrounding treatment, and we have to make treatment available and accessible."