Heroin overdoses in midstate on pace to equal last year's records

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Jul 6, 2015 12:52 PM

(Harrisburg) -- The heroin crisis isn't going away: overdoses are on pace to match last year's historic highs in many midstate counties.

In York County - where the heroin epidemic has ravaged communities - it shows no signs of slowing down.

The coroner says 14 people have died because of heroin this year, and suspects the drug played a role in another eight deaths, putting York's count close to where it was last year at this time.

Cumberland County is slightly ahead of pace, with 8 confirmed deaths and three under investigation. 

Last year, the county's coroner determined heroin caused 14 deaths.

Berks recently reported 11 confirmed, 2 suspected and 2 probable heroin overdose deaths (it defines probable as people who died in the hospital after admission who didn't have available blood samples). Last year it totaled 26 confirmed and 3 probable.

Dauphin County's coroner didn't have current, specific statistics and Lancaster's didn't return multiple calls from WITF.

"It's such an overwhelming problem, such a complicated problem with many different variables, no government agency is going to be able to solve it alone. We can't look to law enforcement, drug enforcement. We can't look to drug and alcohol treatment or drug and alcohol prevention," says Jack Carroll, executive director of the Cumberland-Perry Drug and Alcohol Commission. 

Carroll says one critical component will be doctors avoiding prescribing powerful painkillers unless absolutely necessary.

"A greater percentage of the folks coming to us have identified heroin or some other opiate drug or a combination of heroin and opiate painkillers as their primary drugs of abuse."

Data shows 1 in 15 people who try precription painkillers when it isn't prescribed for them or for the feeling try herion within 10 years.

Carroll says a law allowing nearly anyone to carry a life-saving drug known as naloxone has been helpful, but it's just the first step in curbing heroin deaths.

He says no one agency can solve the drug overdose crisis -- it will take a comprehensive effort from all parties.

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