Drug deaths report illustrate “epidemic” in Pa

HARRISBURG, Pa. — (WHTM-TV) Drug-related deaths were responsible for killing nearly 2,500 people in Pennsylvania last year, according to a report released by state coroners.

“Seven people die from drugs every day in Pennsylvania,” said Susan Shanaman. She spent several months compiling data from 54 participating county coroner’s officer to file a 2014 report of drug-related deaths across the Commonwealth.

Just about half the deaths resulted from heroin and opioid medications.

State Rep. Bryan Barbin (D-Cambria County) said there needs to be more legislation that controls the prescription of such medications.

“Our heroin deaths are directly related to people that move from opioid to heroin,” he said.

About 800 deaths were from heroin alone. Toxicology reports also found nearly 500 mixed drug deaths, which included pills and alcohol.

Locally, York County reported 129 deaths, which tripled according to Coroner Pam Gay. Dauphin reported 54, Cumberland County 35, and Lancaster 56 deaths.

Dauphin County Coroner Graham Hetrick said once a person becomes hooked on heroin, finding the fix is relatively easy.

“That’s because it’s sandwiched between New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. So, there’s the big supply chains,” he said. “That’s what [Dauphin County] faces, that’s what York county faces and Cumberland County.”

State lawmakers who attended the announcement in the State Capitol rotunda said their respective parties and committees were working on several bills that would address the root causes of the problem.

State Rep. Ron Marsico (R-Dauphin) said he vowed to work on a law that would lobby harsher punishments for convicted drug dealers. He said the biggest concern is the supply end of the drug spectrum.

York County Coroner Pam Gay said her task force focuses more on education. She said while 2014 numbers were high, more than 40 presentations since last July have brought some of those numbers down. York County was also the first county in Pennsylvania to use Naloxone or Narcan, an overdose remedy.

Gay said seven lives were saved through the use of Narcan. She said while that is good news, it still shows that people are resorting to heroin and harsh drugs.

“However, [overdoses are] still occurring,” she said. “So, we’re going to keep fighting the fight.”

According to the report, 83 percent of those who overdosed were white, 12 percent were African-American, and four percent were Hispanic/other. 65 percent of all deaths were men, and the primary age group was 41 to 50.

Hetrick said legislating Pennsylvania’s way out of the problem is not a whole solution. He said people need to describe why they resort to drugs and then try to tackle the problem.

“If we don’t modify our behavior, we’re still going to have another epidemic,” Hetrick said.

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