Opioid deaths on the rise in Montgomery County during the COVID-19 pandemic

Overdose deaths fueled by opioids spiked in 2020. Investigators say hand-to-hand buys still happen in remote corners, but much of the illegal drug trade has gone digital.

Born in Germany and adopted by Barb and Bob Senst, Jake loved skiing from an early age.

His life is captured in the many photos taken by his Montgomery County parents. They are images of joy and deep sorrow.

In the end, there was nothing Jake’s family could do to break the grip of opioid addiction. Not treatment or counseling even brushes with the law.

"He had fentanyl. He had marijuana. He had opioids," Barb said.

In November of 2018, his dad found his 20-year old.

"He was upstairs in his bedroom. He said goodnight to us. He had gone out for 10 minutes and come back in. You kind of always say I wish I’d talked to him before going upstairs. I wish I’d gone upstairs with him, wish I’d sat with him. I guess that always happens," Barb explained.

Jake's overdose death was one of 210 in Montgomery County in 2018. A startling number, but far lower than the 257 overdose deaths in the year of the pandemic in 2020.

"It’s been a perfect storm in terms of isolation and fentanyl, which is causing most of the deaths," Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele said.

Overdose deaths that are fueled by opioids spiked across the country in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The DA’s office says Upper Merion has already had seven overdose deaths this year.

County investigators say hand-to-hand buys still happen in remote corners, but much of the illegal drug trade has gone digital.

"Delivery to someone’s home like takeout food?" FOX 29's Jeff Cole asked.

"We’re seeing deliveries like takeout food," Steele said.

Steele argues his office is pushing back by charging suspects with "drug delivery resulting in death" if they can tie them to the fatal overdose.

The charge carries the weight of a homicide.

"If we can take off a dealer that’s selling drugs that are killing people we’re saving lives," Steele said.

Barb, her husband and others have formed "stoAc," the Springfield Township Opioid Action Committee to help families combat addiction.

In emergency kits, they offer information and lifesaving Narcan in memory of the son they lost.

"People need to be, from police to educators to the system, much more aware of what’s going on down here in the trenches," Barb said.

Cole reports three of the suspects charged with drug delivery resulting in death, Jesica Lopez, Ronald Shock and Joshua Benner have pleaded not guilty.



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