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Spate of York County heroin ODs concerns DEA

Written by Gordon Rago/York Daily Record | Dec 5, 2016 8:24 AM
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Photo of the opioid overdose kit to be used by Franklin County Law Enforcement.(Photo: Franklin County District Attorney's Office)

People continue to overdose on heroin as officials see more potent synthetics like fentanyl mixed into the drug

(York) -- Wednesday, York County suffered the most suspected heroin-related overdoses in the least amount of time over the last two years.

The county's heroin epidemic, which started in 2014, has continued through 2016 and shows no signs of slowing down as the new year approaches.

"If you're a drug addict, you could have a court date coming up, something could not be going right with a relationship ... these kids that have an addiction, some of them work through it. I have a lot of success stories," said Alyssa Rohrbaugh, vice president of Not One More, a group that helps raise awareness about the dangers of heroin. "But some kids ... it doesn't matter if you have a strong family background. It doesn't matter if you have money or don't have money. We're seeing relapses where kids have parents who are completely, 100 percent there for them."

So even when there's a week with three overdoses in one day, Rohrbaugh can't point to one cause for the uptick. She doesn't like to say that there's a bad batch because there is no such thing as a bad batch -- these days, heroin can be mixed with fentanyl to increase its potency. She doesn't know the three people who died and whether they had recently been clean and fell back into using.

"I can't pinpoint something other than that heroin is the devil," Rohrbaugh said.

DEA notices ODs in York County

A couple weeks ago, nearly 50 people overdosed in north Philadelphia in an area known as "The Badlands," said Patrick Trainor, a special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration.

A breakdown of the heroin-related overdose deaths in York County Sean Heisey, York Daily Record

Heroin is suspected in the overdoses. Local media reported there had been no deaths, but the surge had police looking for the source.

"Could you imagine if that happened here?" Rohrbaugh said. "Which isn't to say it won't. You never know what's coming through here."

Police in York County are investigating the three overdose deaths from Wednesday. The departments investigating are York City Police, Springettsbury Township Police and Pennsylvania State Police.

The DEA has trained more than 1,000 officers in Pennsylvania and Delaware about investigating drug deaths.

One thing police look for is a stamp, or some type of signature, that dealers put on the bags of heroin they sell, Trainor said. The DEA keeps a database in the region, and in the country, of stamps and can "very often" identify whether a particular bag of heroin was responsible for deaths in another part of the state, Trainor said.

"If we can find a link to another drug organization, we can assist police with that," he said.

Trainor said he saw the tweets put out by York County Coroner Pam Gay about the three overdoses. Couple that with the 50 overdoses in Philadelphia, and Trainor says the feds are paying attention.

His agency is also focused on the fentanyl issue. There are other forms of fentanyl, which is used in the medical profession as a surgical anesthetic, Trainor said. Mixing it in with heroin means more potency. And for dealers -- even if their brand causes people to overdose -- that means good business. People want that drug.

"There is no greater endorsement for a heroin dealer than when his or her product is responsible for a high number of overdoses," Trainor said. "It drives demand through the roof."

Narcan saves locally

There have been 50 confirmed heroin-related deaths so far in York County this year, Gay said this week. Last year, there were 65. That number could be far higher -- law enforcement now carries the antidote naloxone.

Given as an injection or nasal spray, naloxone can reverse the effects of an overdose.

This year there were 183 naloxone saves through October. But that total doesn't take into account other places that give naloxone, or Narcan, to people. Local hospitals, for instance, administer the antidote.

And Rohrbaugh's group, Not One More, gives it out to people for free. In 2015, the group got a grant for 200 kits, each of which has two doses. All of those doses were given away.

Then, Not One More purchased about 100 kits, each with two doses. Those were also given away. The group recently got another 100 and has been giving those out to people. In all, Rohrbaugh estimates, Not One More has spent thousands of dollars on naloxone.

"I've delivered Narcan in the middle of the night," she said. "We will always have it."

In fact, just give her or her co-founder a call. She can be reached at 717-424-8890. Vickie Glatfelter can be reached at 717-850-6350.

A local pharmacy will also soon be stocked with naloxone.

On Monday, state Physician General Rachel Levine and Secretary of Drug and Alcohol Programs Gary Tennis will fill prescriptions for naloxone at Minnich's Pharmacy in York. It comes as part of a standing order in Pennsylvania signed by Levine for any pharmacy to hand out the antidote.

This story is part of a partnership between WITF and the York Daily Record.

Published in News, York

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