Heroin: a growing problem for the midstate

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Apr 25, 2014 4:00 AM

(Harrisburg) -- Law enforcement, community leaders and politicians are expressing concern about a growing drug problem in the midstate: heroin.


This week, police seized more than $100,000 worth of heroin in York.

Also in Berks County, police arrested a York County charter school teacher for allegedly selling the drug.

And at least five recent graduates of the Kutztown and Brandywine School Districts in Berks County have died in the past couple years of illegal drug overdoses.

The stories are starting to pile on top of each other, forcing leaders to focus on heroin.

"It's not really our area. It's not even a regional problem, it's not a state problem, it's not a national problem, it's an international problem," says Kutztown School Superintendent Kathy Metrick.

Kutztown High School held a town meeting earlier this week on the issue, bringing together politicians, religous leaders, and social services groups.

Says Metrick: "Until kids see an empty desk next to them in a classroom, they don't realize how serious the problem is. If they haven't lost someone, most kids feel very invincible."

From 2007 to 2012, the number of people in the U-S using heroin in the past year jumped nearly 80 percent, from 373,000 to 669,000, according to the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

The most recent statistics from the Pennsylvania Department of Health date to 2011 and don't isolate individual drugs.

In Franklin County, a recent meeting also focused on the hallucinogen.

County District Attorney Matt Fogal says it's time for a new strategy beyond the war on drugs.

"The time is ripe because of people's experiences within their own families or their own communities. They're aware of the issue and have had some experience probably, first- or second-hand.

Fogal says the problem is growing because of the low prices for heroin, while Metrick pointed to studies showing boredom often leads to drug use.

On top of turning people's lives around, Fogal makes an economic case for coming up with a solution.

"We can save a lot, taxpayers can save a lot of money, in terms of reincarceration and recidivism. But not only that, but in terms of productivity."

Metrick says the biggest barrier to coming up with a solution is the stigma associated with addiction.

The problem is nearly universal too: Lancaster County's Drug Task Force says its the most abused illegal drug in the county, excluding marijuana.

Dauphin County has also scheduled two Prescription Drug Abuse Summits, with the first Thursday, May 1 in the Lower Paxton Township Municipal Building.

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