York County turns to awareness after 3 overdoses in 5 hours

Written by Gordon Rago/York Daily Record | Dec 2, 2016 7:53 AM

York County Coroner Pam Gay has worked with a task force to address the heroin epidemic. Her office is dealing this week with a sudden uptick in overdoses. (Photo: File, York Daily Record)

(York) -- Three people -- all of them males -- died Wednesday of drug overdoses in York County, a sudden uptick that marks a difficult day for a county that has spent years addressing the heroin epidemic.

The county coroner's office said the deaths are suspected to be related to heroin or a similar opioid, Fentanyl. The office did not release the names of the victims or other information about the deaths.

Overdoses like these are treated as crime scenes as police start working to determine who sold the person the drugs.

Two of the people who died Wednesday were discovered in homes, Coroner Pam Gay said. The third was brought to a local hospital but he could not be brought back to life. All happened in a span of five hours.

Members of the York Heroin Task Force speak about the heroin epidemic in York County. Sean Heisey

Gay said Wednesday that officials do not believe there was any bad batch of the drug moving through the county, adding that the deaths happened in three different parts of York County. The three police departments investigating are York City Police, Springettsbury Township Police and Pennsylvania State Police, according to Dave Sunday, chief deputy prosecutor with the York County District Attorney's Office.

Gay said she met Thursday morning with Sunday. The pair is credited with helping to form the county's heroin task force, a mix of state representatives, medical professionals and police officers.

"This is an ongoing crisis," he said. "Yesterday was a very sad day."

Generally, the county is seeing people overdose on a "little bit of everything," Sunday said, with drug dealers or others mixing in other substances.

"The reality is when people buy heroin from a dealer, they have no idea what they're buying," Sunday said. "Whoever mixed that drug could have mixed that in a manner where death could occur immediately."

After the overdoses, Sunday and Gay wanted to get the word out. It was a tragic day, but awareness of the drug's dangers continues to be a focus.

York County will begin participating in an awareness tool run by the University of Pittsburgh.

OverdoseFreePA was developed in 2014. Nine counties in Pennsylvania input drug overdose data from their local coroner's or medical examiner's office. Data is broken down year by year and goes back, in some counties, to 2008.

The database shows demographics like race, age and gender of overdose victims as well as the types of drugs in the victims' system.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Harrisburg is also addressing awareness.

On Thursday, the office said it is developing a "community education plan" that will focus on a multi-media presentation highlighting the dangers and warning signs of opioid abuse.

Those presentations will be given throughout the region by prosecutors, police officers, medical professionals and others, according to a news release.

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


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