McKeesport, Pennsylvania –- A seven-year-old girl spent most of the weekend trying to wake her parents, but they failed to respond. So on a Monday morning in September, 2016, the conscientious little girl dressed herself, left the family’s apartment in the greater Pittsburgh area, and went to school.
After a full day of classes, on the way home she chatted with the bus driver and mentioned that she hadn’t been able to wake her parents. Police were alerted, and they went to the child’s apartment to investigate.
They found her parents’ corpses inside the home — dead of drug overdoses.
Also inside the apartment were the child’s three siblings, aged five years, three years, and nine months.
Authorities including police lieutenant Andrew Schurman suspect that the parents, Christopher Dilly, 26, and Jessica Lally, 25, had been dead for as long as two days or more. The suspected cause of death is heroin.
The mother’s sister, Courtney, confirmed that the two were addicted to the opioid. She reported, “My sister wasn’t the person she became when it came to drugs,” and added, “She wasn’t the person I knew. It was like the drugs had taken over.”
The mother’s sister had previously attempted to have the children removed from the couple’s care. When the family lived in a nearby town, Courtney had forwarded to local authorities photos of their filthy, garbage-filled home. But the angered couple simply moved to an apartment in a different jurisdiction: McKeesport, part of the greater Pittsburgh metropolitan area, where they died.
The couple’s children were transported to a nearby hospital to be evaluated.They were subsequently released into the care of Allegheny County’s department of children, youth, and families.
Drug-related deaths in Pennsylvania are reaching epidemic proportions. In a study released last spring, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health announced that fatal drug overdoses in the state had grown by over 1000 percent in the past 35 years.
Indeed, another fatal overdose had occurred on the same street as the couple’s deaths earlier that day.
The problem is not limited to Pennsylvania. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, more than 28,000 people throughout the U.S. died from opioid overdoses in 2014, and the number of fatal opioid overdoses practically quadrupled nationwide in the past fifteen years.
Unfortunately, many of the potential overdose victims are parents.
For example, in September a Massachusetts onlooker took video of a toddler crying and pulling on her mother who was unconscious, having overdosed and collapsed in a store.
That same month Ohio authorities published on Facebook the photo of an overdosed and barely conscious couple inside a vehicle in which a four-year-old sat in the back in a car seat. One of the adults was turning blue.
Meanwhile in Alabama, another published photo showed a police officer comforting a one-month-old whose father had fatally overdosed and whose mother near death.
The University of Pittsburgh study is the first of its kind. The scientists hope their research will enable law enforcement and healthcare workers to undertake interventions that may save lives.
However, for four parentless children in the greater Pittsburgh area, it’s already too late.