Effort to kickstart drug awareness in Delco

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Diane Amadio (left) and Peggy Murr, along with Adrian Hickman, started the Haverford Alliance for Drug Awareness, a grassroots effort to educate students and adults about the dangers of opiates and how to recognize the signs of abuse.

It was a scene from the funeral for her son's friend in July that spurred Peggy Murr into action.

She couldn't shake the image of children she had known most of their lives crying uncontrollably as they carried the casket of 23-year-old Christopher Lubonski, who died of a drug overdose, up the aisle at a Haverford Township church.

When a newspaper story about heroin deaths in Delaware County a month later sparked discussion on Facebook, Murr offered to host a brainstorming session.

"People want to act, but they don't know what to do," she said.

Within two days, 20 people had contacted her, some with stories so heart-wrenching they made her cry, she said.

Now Murr, Diane Amadio, and Adrian Hickman have started the Haverford Alliance for Drug Awareness, a grassroots effort to educate students and adults about the dangers of opiates and how to recognize abuse. They have also started a Facebook page under the group's name.

"We are not crusaders," said Murr, an account manager for the General Services Administration. "We are accidental activists."

Pennsylvania ranks ninth in the country in drug deaths per capita, with heroin involved in nearly half of the overdose deaths, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Between Jan. 1 and Nov. 6, there were 77 heroin overdoses reported in Delaware County. In Haverford, there were eight drug-related deaths through Oct. 26, according to the Medical Examiner's Office.

Haverford police have revived five people by using Narcan since being allowed to carry the antidote last November.

"Our heroin deaths are higher than they have ever been," said Jack Whelan, the Delaware County district attorney.

The problem cuts across all socio-economic lines, and neighbors who come together and raise awareness can make a difference in their communities, he said.

Murr and Amadio sent out notices of a first meeting to friends. They asked the library where the meeting was to be held to set out 20 chairs. More than 80 people attended.

Some came to listen. Some came to share stories of their family's struggles with drug addiction, Murr said.

"One of our biggest goals is to remove the stigma of addiction rather than ostracize people who are struggling," said Amadio, 63, a retired teacher.

"If every town has a group as passionate as this, the heroin epidemic would be much smaller," said Special Agent Patrick J. Trainor, the public information officer for the DEA, who was invited to speak.

Trainor said the path to addiction often starts with a sports injury or surgery. Patients get a prescription for Percocet or OxyContin. They become addicted and graduate to heroin, which can sell for $5 to $10 a bag on the streets, he said.

Law enforcement has come to realize it can't arrest its way out of the heroin epidemic and needs to partner with community groups to get the message across about drugs, he said.

"Nothing I can say will come anywhere near what a mother or father who just buried a child will say," Trainor said.

"I think the word has to get out there to the parents about what is going on, what is around, and what to look for," said Anna Marie Lubonski, Christopher's mother.

Her son's addiction to prescription drugs started after a car accident and was compounded by depression and anxiety, she said.

The family did "everything" to help him, including multiple stays in rehabilitation facilities, she said.

"This area needs a wake-up call," Lubonski said. Drugs are "so available, it is ridiculous."

mschaefer@phillynews.com

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@MariSchaefer