In recent years, Philadelphia has experienced a rise in opioid use that has been affecting the city and surrounding areas as well. As of this past September, it is thought that on average, at least 55,000 Philadelphians are abusing opioids and some say it’s only starting to get worse.
In the neighborhood of Kensington, there is a park about four miles from center city that has become a wasteland for opioid users. Thousands of heroin needles, oxycontin pill bottles and other drug related paraphernalia cover the small area to the point where the ground is not visible.
The park even has shacks set up known as “hospitals” in which the more squeamish users can have a “doctor” shoot them up.
A problem that has been going on for decades has not only worsened in Philadelphia, but has spread to surrounding cities and states. Areas around Philadelphia such as South New Jersey have experienced a major push of opioids from the city to the suburbs, and West Chester is no different.
In Chester County alone in 2015, there were over 63 opioid related overdoses that resulted in death. In 2016 there were over 75. The coroner has not released the number of how many have overdosed in 2017 because the year has yet to conclude. However, there are still deaths day by day.
Back in early May of 2017, two drug rehab counselors were found dead in their halfway house in Philadelphia. Both men overdosed on opioids on the same day, however, they were in different rooms when they were found.
In these halfway houses, the counselors are usually ex-addicts who try to understand where current addicts are in the scope of addiction as well as use their life experiences in efforts to help other addicts recover. Sometimes addiction can cause even the strongest to crumble.
This epidemic has not only reached towns across New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but it has come knocking in West Chester. Even a former student has fallen under the dangerous spell of these opioids. Ryan Colestock, a student of West Chester University some four years ago, was found guilty of stealing over $40,000 worth of antique paintings, chandeliers, refined metal works and even mint-condition French WWII war rifles. Colestock stole these antiques from his former boss, Rob Tucker, and used the money to support his opioid addiction.
Tucker, a retired architect, graduated from Drexel University after returning from the Vietnam War. He has built several buildings, houses and apartment complexes all over Chester County. Since retiring, Tucker has stayed in the area maintaining, restoring and renovating several of his personal properties with the help of college students such as Colestock.
With Colestock being such a loyal worker, he was the last person Tucker expected to be stealing from him when he started to notice several of his antiques were missing from his safe house on one of his properties on Clover Mill Road. However, after setting up cameras all around the perimeter, he caught Colestock red handed leaving the property with several boxes of items.
“He was like my son,” Tucker said. Colestock said the same during his trial; that the two had “a father-son relationship.” Tucker, who was deeply affected by the situation, took a long time to think about what he wanted to happen to his former employee and friend. In the end, he asked the judge not to give him jail time as it wouldn’t help but rather give Colestock another chance at redemption.
Of the $40,000 worth of valuables stolen, Colestock was able to sell most of the items to pawn shops around the Exton area. The pawn shops were only able to give him around $2,000 in return for the items, which he in turn spent on his Xanax and other opioid related addictions.
Colestock has now been sober for over a year with the help of weekly meetings with Tucker and drug counseling.
Colestock now works in masonry, a trade he learned from Tucker. However, Colestock still owes money not only to Tucker but the court and pawn shops as well.
“The rate he’s paying me at I won’t have my money for another 400 years. There has to be something we can work out so this isn’t looming over him forever. We’ll see what happens,” said Tucker when asked what he thought the future would bring in terms of debt repayment.
The battle against opioids still rages on both in West Chester and the city of Philadelphia. Efforts from Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney have been put forth to put a stop to the growing rates of opioid usage and overdoses with the help of the Opioid Task Force of Philadelphia.
This 23-person team, led by Dr. Arthur C. Evans and Dr. Thomas Farley, will tackle the opioid crisis first-hand with the help of the mayor and The Narcan Program, a heroin prevention awareness program available to all Philadelphians.
Christopher Sheehan is a fourth-year student majoring in professional studies with concentrations in journalism and graphic design. He can be reached at CS837135@wcupa.edu and on Twitter @chrissheehan16.