When news reports last week detailed a sharp spike in apparent drug overdose deaths in Philadelphia - 35 in the five days from Dec. 1 to 5 - Sharlene Raines and Rachel Soucier worried that their older sister might be among them.

Just a few weeks earlier, their sister, "Joan," a 44-year-old single mother whose real name is being withheld at their request, was found passed out on a Kensington street with a needle in her arm, they said.

After an intervention staged by Soucier, 28; Joan agreed to go into detox the Sunday before Thanksgiving. But after just six days, she went back to the streets of Kensington instead of rehab. Her addiction took precedence over caring for her 9-year-old daughter and herself.

Joan was not among those killed by overdoses this month, but that has done little to assuage her sisters' fears.

"I'm preparing myself for the worst," said Raines, a police officer in Asheville, N.C. "I don't want to give up on her completely, but I have to be realistic because I see what happens. I see it every day."

Raines said that her department receives daily calls for overdose cases, and that when she responds, she thinks of Joan.

"If the person is coherent, I find myself spending more time talking to them than other officers might, to find out what led them to this point and what it would take for them to go into rehab," said Raines, 39. "If I can't save my sister, maybe I can save somebody else."

'It's never been this bad'

Joan is the oldest of five children. When they were teenagers, their parents moved from the Philadelphia suburbs to North Carolina, but some of the children made their way back to the Philadelphia area as adults.

Joan most recently lived with their mother and grandmother in Norristown. Also in the house was Joan's daughter.

Raines and Soucier said their oldest sister has been battling drug addiction for years.

"But it's never been this bad," said Soucier, of Ocean City, N.J. "It's a progressive disease, so it just keeps getting worse. She's got needle marks up and down her arm now."

Last month, Joan went missing for 10 days and their mother called her ex-boyfriend, the father of her child, to help find her.

He traveled from North Carolina to Kensington with a photo of Joan.

"He spent two or three days driving around talking to people and risking his life going into this drug area to find out if anybody had seen her," Raines said. "He found her on the streets. She was passed out with a needle in her arm."

For Soucier, that was it.

"I said, 'I'm sick and tired of this crap. We're doing an intervention,' " she said. "I was so nervous, but I didn't care. I had to try and save her and save [her daughter] from having to bury her mom."

After scooping her off the streets, Joan's ex brought her back to her grandmother's house. It was there, on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, that the family staged an intervention.

She refused to come out of her room so the family went in to her.

As Joan lay in bed with a black eye, wearing the clothes in which she had been found in while passed out in Kensington, one by one her family members described to her what she was like before drugs and after.

For Soucier, the change during those years was dramatic. Before her sister's addiction, "I wanted to be just like her," Soucier said. "I always told everybody she looked like a movie star."

'There was no remorse'

But Soucier said Joan has become a hurtful woman: "She says the things you don't ever want to say to people."

Joan agreed to go into detox only after she was told she could no longer live at her grandmother's house if she did not.

"But there was no remorse," Soucier said.

When Joan's time at detox was up, she was supposed to go through outpatient therapy while living at her grandmother's house. Instead, she went right back to the streets, her sisters said.

She doesn't have a wallet or a cellphone, so her family often worries about her well-being. She called last Tuesday, but has been heard from little since.

Soucier said Joan missed court dates in Philadelphia and Montgomery County last week, so bench warrants have been issued for her arrest. She hopes her sister gets locked up.

"That'd be the best thing for her right now," she said. "I'd rather see her behind bars than in a coffin."

farrs@phillynews.com215-854-4225

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