State officials, sister of deceased man talk about heroin addiction

Video: Dead man tumbles out of Megabus bathroom

Megabus driver Anthony Savage Sr. talks about finding a dead body in the bathroom of his bus during the stop in State College. The man had boarded in Philadelphia and was heading to Pittsburgh.
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Megabus driver Anthony Savage Sr. talks about finding a dead body in the bathroom of his bus during the stop in State College. The man had boarded in Philadelphia and was heading to Pittsburgh.

Noah Thomas Jones, 33, died on a Megabus, alone in a bathroom, during a trip back to Pittsburgh. He had plans to go to the Salvation Army, where he had been working and receiving help for his heroin addiction.

But he never made it.

On Thursday, after what his sister calls a long fight with heroin, Jones died.

While Patton Township police say that toxicology results are still pending, Jones’ family is heartbroken.

“It was very shocking for us. We didn’t expect that,” Lacey Malinowski, Jones’ sister, said Thursday night.

“Right now I’m confused. Yesterday he left here waving goodbye. He was happy. What changed that? What urged him to stop and get something. We will never have the answers to that and that’s the hardest part for me right now,” said Malinowski.

In Pennsylvania, heroin deaths have been occurring at an alarming rate over the past few years.

“About seven Pennsylvanians die each day from drug overdose deaths. In fact, it’s the worst overdose death epidemic ever,” said Jason Snyder, policy and communications director for the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. “It’s the worst public health crisis in the last 100 years.”

In 2014, roughly 2,500 people died in Pennsylvania from heroin. An increase in deaths is anticipated between 2015 and 2016, said Dr. Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania physician general, at a meeting last month, according to WNEP.

“In Philadelphia, in 2014, more than 650 people died. That equals 42 people dying from overdoses, per every 100,000 in Philadelphia,” said Snyder.

“The Centre County Coroner’s Office confirmed that 34 fatal heroin overdoses occurred in 2014 and 2015,” said State College police Officer Kelly Aston.

“This is just a lesson for all families that it’s not easy. A lot of people are going through it. My brother just left the Scranton area. He came up for Easter. He just left yesterday. He was fine, he was clean, he was happy. He’s been clean, so this was really hard to take in,” said Malinowski.

In February, State College police began carrying Narcan, a prescription medication that reverses opioid overdose symptoms. While some critics say the drug enables drug users, others say that’s simply not true.

“Anyone who believes naloxone enables drug users, or those with the disease of addiction, don’t really understand addiction. It’s a weak argument people who are ignorant about the disease make. I’d ask them, what then is the alternative?” said Snyder.

“The fact of the matter is anyone can become addicted. If you talk to police they will tell you they have reversed opioid overdoses for both the elderly and children using naloxone. The disease of addiction is a chronic disease, often lapped by relapse,” said Snyder.

And no one knows that more than Bonnie Kline Smeltzer, the mother of a young woman who suffered with addiction and lost her fight in 2014.

“Narcan saved my daughter’s life once before. It allowed her to go to rehab and recognize that she had a problem with drugs and then she was able to live several years afterwards,” said Smeltzer, the mother of Elizabeth Kline Smeltzer, who died from a heroin overdose in 2014.

In Centre County, law enforcement has also seen an increase in heroin distribution. In March, State College police arrested a Philadelphia man after they found him carrying a brown suitcase containing 577 bags of heroin and 22.9 grams of cocaine.

“There were 30 non-fatal overdoses that occurred in 2014 and 2015 where the user survived. It is estimated that 234 additional police incidents occurred where heroin and/or opiates were involved. Incidents involving heroin and/or opiates have increased from 2014 to 2015,” Aston said.

In Centre County, individuals seeking help with opioid addiction are urged to contact Clear Concepts, Quest or Crossroads.

Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller’s office sees the effect regularly.

“Heroin is a brutal drug, and it can be quickly fatal. It can ruin lives, but it doesn’t have to. This is so very sad, and we need to do better to help people to break the cycle of addiction,” she said.

“We cannot treat someone who is dead. We do not discriminate against those who medically suffer the consequences of making bad decisions. As a compassionate society, we should provide the same type of care and service that we would to anyone else whose lifestyle put them at risk,” Snyder said.

Malinowski says she is saddened that her brother died in the bus bathroom alone.

“Addiction is a disease. It’s a disease people chose, maybe, but that doesn’t change the fact that they need help. They’re just doing what their bodies are telling them to do. They don’t think. The urge to do it is much greater than the urge to stop,” she said. “You’re watching them slowly kill themselves. That’s a sad, real hard fact to watch.”

And for Malinowski, that starts with listening.

“I’m not saying we have to cater to the addict but we have to be open to them. ... They just need to know they have that support. They need to hear ‘I’m not here to judge you, I want you to get better,’ ” she said.

Malinowski said she will never know why her brother decided to use one more time, but she does want people to stop with their judgments.

“It just takes that one time. People tend to judge others, and they tend to forget that it’s not our place to judge them. My brother was a very spiritual person. He knew a lot about a lot of different religions,” she said. “This man had a life, a family that cared about him.”

Just imagine his parents’ grief.

Jason Snyder, Pa. Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs

“Just imagine his parents’ grief. This is something a parent will grieve for the rest of their life. To the person that says ‘let them die, this is what they deserve,’ they have a very narrow mind and closed perspective. There are a lot of people out there struggling with addiction. Some small percentage are committing crimes, we know that, but there’s a life and story behind every one of these,” Snyder said.

“I would strongly encourage anyone that needs to get help, who wants to live a different type of life, free of addiction, to seek treatment, because treatment does work and recovery is possible,” Snyder said.

Jalelah Ahmed: 814-231-4631, @jalelahahmed