Brett Sholtis is WITF’s Transforming Health reporter, covering health policy and community health issues that affect Pennsylvanians. Brett strives to share personal stories that have a tie to broad issues and emerging trends. He seeks to give voice to diverse viewpoints, including those of people living with mental illness, disability and those living in poverty. He plays a key role in WITF’s mental health series, Through the Cracks, which reports on problem areas in mental health services and efforts to reduce stigma around those living with behavioral disorders. Previously, Brett was a business reporter at the York Daily Record, where his work included award-winning examinations of the nuclear power industry and food safety. He is a University of Pittsburgh graduate and a Pennsylvania Army National Guard veteran.
Pennsylvania’s opioid command center says there’s been “an abnormally high number of drug-related overdoses over the past few days” in Dauphin County.
Twenty-four people were treated for overdoses in emergency rooms since November 2, according to the command center, which the governor established in 2018 upon declaring the opioid crisis a disaster emergency.
Susquehanna Township EMS responded to three overdoses on Sunday alone, said director Matt Baily.
In those cases, the patients required “a significant amount” of opioid-reversal drug naloxone to get them to where they could breathe on their own, said Baily. He suspects the synthetic opioid fentanyl, which is often mixed with heroin or other drugs, is causing the increase.
Authorities have cracked down on drug dealers and reduced the availability of addictive prescription opioids, Baily said. However, fentanyl and similar synthetic drugs keep turning up.
“What really happened was, probably a bad batch came through, and now we really look at what a bad batch looks like,” Baily said.
The Department of Health couldn’t confirm what’s causing the spike in overdoses, noting that the data, which is reported from emergency rooms, doesn’t indicate cause.
“Regarding whether there was a bad batch, when we see a higher number of cases than what is considered to be normal, we certainly are concerned that there might be something going on…” said spokesman Nate Wardle. “However, these alerts are issued purely from a data perspective, and do not include information as to what the cause may be.”
The Dauphin County Coroner’s office has also seen the trend. Five people have died of suspected drug overdose so far this November, said Coroner Graham Hetrick. He’s waiting for toxicology results to confirm the causes of death.
The state urges anyone struggling with opioid addiction to seek help, noting it has people standing by ready to offer assistance. People can call 1-800-622-HELP for more information.