Number of drug deaths in Franklin County leads coroner to ask for bigger budget

Written by Jim Hook/The Chambersburg Public Opinion | Oct 21, 2018 1:38 PM

Naloxone is saving lives, but the opioid crisis continues to eat away at public resources.

Franklin County Coroner Jeffrey Conner has asked county commissioners to increase his budget. He wants to move an on-call employee to part-time in 2019 because of drug-related deaths. Cumberland, Dauphin and York coroners made similar upgrades last year, he said.

Conner figures he can hold the additional cost to $10,000 by making changes elsewhere in his labor budget. Half of the coroner's $400,000 budget goes to labor. County taxpayers fund most of the budget. Autopsies cost the county about $120,000 a year.

More: War on opioids: Franklin County fights stigma in battle to save lives

More: They died by overdose. Now their families support each other.

Quick intervention has been preventing overdose deaths. Police and ambulance personnel use naloxone to rapidly reverse an opioid overdose.

A kit costs about $50, according to Dustin Ulrich, emergency services chief in Chambersburg.  

An overdose call typically requires additional personnel, similar to a call for respiratory or cardiac arrest, according to Ulrich. Help is needed with gear and administering the medicine.

Basic life support technicians with the Chambersburg Fire Department have administered 17 doses of naloxone to 13 patients this year.

Last year the county had 36 overdose deaths, compared to 46 (including seven suicides) in 2016.

"We are currently running about the same as last year," Conner said. "Who knows what the next 2 1/2 months will bring? Last year everything broke loose."

Law enforcement has used naloxone 28 times so far in 2018 in the county, and 26 times the victim survived, according to District Attorney Matt Fogal, who chairs the Franklin County Overdose Task Force.

The medicine was successful 40 of the 43 times that law enforcement officers used it last year.

Countywide in 2017 there were 328 overdose calls, not all of them opioid-related, according to an Overdose Task Force report. Of the 174 who went to the emergency room, three-fourths returned home. Just two percent went to jail.

Naloxone has a 2-year shelf life, Ulrich said.

"The department bought a stock of this when we started providing this life-saving drug to those who need it," Ulrich said. "Once our stock is low or done we will be working with the county's agency that distributes free product to first responders through the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency."

Nearly 140 people in the county were trained in 2017 to administer naloxone.

This story comes to us through a partnership between WITF and The Chambersburg Public Opinion. 

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