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Two staffers at an unlicensed Pennsylvania recovery home for drug addicts trying to kick their habits died on the same night from the same thing — overdoses from a lethal mix of heroin and fentanyl.
They were found passed out at the Freedom Ridge Recovery Lodge in leafy West Brandywine Township in their private rooms, which were littered with used needles and baggies of heroin.
"They were found by the other residents,” Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan told NBC News on Thursday. "They came over to get their programming and medications and found the bodies."
Recognizing the tell-tale signs of a drug overdose, some of the residents administered the anti-overdose drug Narcan to one of the "counselors" but could not revive him, Hogan said.
Neither of the owners, identified by the district attorney and by business records as Mary and Wayne Kief, were at the residence when emergency responders were called at 2:15 p.m. Sunday, Hogan said.
“We were told by the patients they were out of state,” the DA said. “We notified them and said you’d better get back here.”
For privacy reasons, Hogan would only identify the victims as men ages 33 and 24. One had a room in the basement of the home. The other lived on an upstairs floors. And both were pronounced dead at the scene.
“Preliminary toxicology tests for each of the deceased were positive for heroin and fentanyl,” the DA’s office said in a statement.
Hogan, in the statement, said what happened at the facility is a “frightening example” of the deadly opioid epidemic that has been ravaging Pennsylvania and other states.
“The staff members in charge of supervising recovering addicts succumbed to their own addiction and died of opioid overdoses,” Hogan said. “Opioids are a monster that is slowly consuming our population.”
Investigators are now trying to track down who sold the doomed men the heroin mixed with fentanyl.
“Anybody who sees baggies in the area with the Superman or Danger logo must be warned away to stay away from those drugs,” the DA said in the statement. “They appear to be heroin laced with fentanyl and are likely to kill anybody who uses them.”
But the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs said dead men “should not have been referred to as counselors in reports on the incident.”
“Freedom Ridge Recovery Lodge Services is a recovery house, a living arrangement for those who choose to live with others who are working toward continued sobriety,” the DDAP statement said. “Counselors, as regulated by the state, are clinicians who provide either individual or group treatment services in a license facility.”
Hogan told NBC News they called the dead men counselors for a simple reason.
"The patients described them as counselors,” he said. “They had the keys to the medication and would hand out the medication to the individuals. That sounds like a counselor to me. The poor guys who found them told the first responders they needed their medication and couldn’t find the keys because the counselors had them."
DDAP spokeswoman Carol Gifford said Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has been pushing for legislation that would require facilities like Freedom Ridge to be regulated and staffed with licensed counselors.
Hogan said the Kiefs are not expected to face any charges for leaving the facility in the hands of the two dead men. "There were no licensing requirements so they don’t appear to have broken any laws," he said.
The men staying at Freedom Ridge Recovery Lodge, located some 45 miles west of Philadelphia, ranged in age from 20s to late 30s and 40s, said Hogan. "There are no teenagers or old folks," he said.
The Kiefs did not respond to emails and calls from NBC News to their home and their other businesses, Call Center Connect Inc. and Fleet Maintenance Service Inc., which ares based at the same address as Freedom Ridge. The lodge's website, which was up on Wednesday, was no longer online by Thursday.
But back in 2013, when the Kiefs first proposed opening the facility in a neighborhood of single family homes, they faced a lot of opposition from the locals.
"I have a problem with these people being in my community," resident Beth Malikowski said at a township meeting at the time according to the Daily Local newspaper. “They aren’t people who own homes; they don’t have an interest in my community. I don’t want them living next door to me.”