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Hearing on heroin in Berks County today

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Jul 22, 2014 4:01 AM

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(Harrisburg) -- Experts says heroin is widely available and often cheaper than prescription drugs.

They note some of the stigma around the drug is also fading away.

In York County, the District Attorney's Office says 25 people have died from heroin overdoses as of July 16th, with six additional deaths suspected to be caused by the addictive drug. Fewer than 19 people died from heroin overdoses in York County in all of 2013.

So, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania is holding a series of hearings, including one today in Reading.

Kutztown's mayor, drug experts, and the district attorneys from Berks and Schulykill Counties, as well as parents and advocates, are all scheduled to testify.

State Police Trooper Rob Hicks serves as the spokesman for Troop H, covering Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin and Perry counties. He says law enforcement has its eyes on the issue.

"We know that heroin is becoming more popular. Certainly appears to be becoming like an epidemic. So it's definitely out there on the streets more, and it's definitely a focus of ours. So we are trying to get more of it off the streets. We are putting more of an enforcment effort into trying to get it off the streets."

Across the midstate, the heroin problem has also reached into Lancaster County.

According to the Pennsylvania State Coroners Association, 92 people died from heroin overdoses between 2009 and mid-2013.

That put Lancaster in the top 10 in the state.

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"We're trying to be super aggressive in get these drugs off the street. We also work in conjunction with the FBI and the DEA, we have a good strong partnership with them. So it's a group effort out there to try to get these drugs off the streets," says Trooper Hicks.

Democratic state Senator Judy Schwank of Berks County says the hearing is designed to be informational for lawmakers.

"We want to get a sense from the experts that we'll have testifying at the hearing on the Legislature's effort to counteract prescription drug abuse. We'd also like to learn 'Where are the shortcomings in state law?'"

Berks County has also had its share of problems: at least five recent high school graduates have died from illegal drug overdoses in the past couple years.

"If we're united in our efforts to address the issue that communities throughout the Commonwealth are facing, we might be able to stem the tide on heroin abuse in Pennsylvania," says Schwank.

bill to give criminal immunity to those who call 911 to report an overdose stalled in the House in early June.

Some of those on the front lines of the crisis say such a measure could be critical to at least slowing overdose deaths.

This morning's hearing is slated to run until 12:30 at Reading Area Community College.

Two more hearings are also planned for August in Cambria and Clarion counties.

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