'The worst is yet to come': Pa. heroin, opioid deaths predicted to rise for years

Written by Joel Shannon/The York Daily Record | Jul 18, 2017 7:27 AM

(Undated) -- As efforts to combat Pennsylvania's heroin and opioid crisis escalate, so too will the opioid death rate, according to Dr. John P. Gallagher, who chairs the Pennsylvania Medical Society's opioid task force. 

Citing national data from science and medical publication STAT, Gallagher predicts the death rate in Pennsylvania will peak in 2024.

Gallagher explained that closing heroin and opioid pipelines will help prevent new people from becoming addicted. But it will also lead some people who are already addicted to use more and more dangerous substances.

Carfentanil is just one example. 

There are reports that some in Pennsylvania have overdosed carfentanil, which can be used to cut heroin and is often called an "elephant tranquilizer."

The drug is "crazy dangerous," according to a statement from DEA Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg.

Without proper precautions, it can even pose a risk to first responders who are trying to treat drug overdose patients. 

Ten thousand times more potent than morphine, the DEA reports the lethal dosage of carfentanil is unknown. But the drug is dangerous enough that Russians have reportedly used it as a chemical weapon, killing 127 despite opioid antidote treatments, according to the Maryland Poison Center.

Prevention and treatment efforts are being used to fight the opioid crisis, according to Gallagher.

Among these efforts: A opioid pill take-back program. 

Since the majority of new heroin users start by abusing opioid pain killers, the program is aimed at getting unused painkillers out of the public's hands.

The Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs' website has information  locations where drugs can be safely returned.

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

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