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Opioid death rate accelerates in York County; Fentanyl plays big role

Written by Candy Woodall,/The York Daily Record | Jun 4, 2018 3:24 AM
Chambersburg_fentanyl.jpg

Photo by ydr/Franklin County District Attorney's Office

One York County leader said it might take a generation before this deadly epidemic subsides.

(York) -- After countless prevention efforts and a state of emergency, opioid deaths are still increasing in York County.

That's no surprise to Coroner Pam Gay.

She's been at the forefront of prevention efforts for years, raising awareness at a country club and small community church just last week. Opioid addiction and the attendant overdose deaths are problems the coroner and nurse knows won't be solved quickly.

"We almost have to wait for a whole new generation," she said.

But even in York County's rising numbers, Gay sees some signs of improvement.

The county had 42 confirmed opioid deaths and 23 suspected opioid deaths as of June 1. That's about 15 more compared to the same point last year.

Those deaths are mostly men in their 30s, 40s and 50s. She's seeing few in their 20s or younger.

"We hardly ever see teens," Gay said.

Does that mean kids are receiving all the prevention messages?

"I think it's hard to know for sure," she said.

That's because teens here usually start with pills, not the deadly heroin-fentanyl mix that typically leads to deaths counted by Gay's office.

The number of teens and children admitted to hospitals for opioid overdoses has doubled since 2004, according to The Journal of Pediatrics

Almost all the opioid overdoses in York County this year included fentanyl.

That's in line with what's happening across the country. Fentanyl is causing about half of all opioid deaths, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association

"We're not seeing any real slowdown in the numbers. This problem was years in the making," Gay said.

Many of the cases she sees started with pain pills, according to her conversations with families.

And many of those cases were people in recovery, just getting out of prison or rehab - a familiar refrain across the state and throughout the opioid epidemic.

"This is a disease," Gay said. "Recovery can fall apart in a day."

The York County coroner has been among the most vocal and most forthcoming with data and details during the epidemic.

"It's important never to be silent about any trends that are taking people in the prime of their lives," she said.

This story comes to us through a partnership between WITF and The York Daily Record

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