LEBANON, Pa. (WHTM) — In 2015, there was a record 17 heroin overdose deaths in Lebanon County. So far this year, the number sits at just five.
While a decrease in those drug-related deaths is to be recognized as progress, it is certainly not being celebrated by members of the Lebanon County Heroin Task Force. A year after being formed, the group gathered on HACC’s Lebanon campus on Wednesday evening for a status update and presentation. The group, seemingly pleased with its initial attack on the opioid drug epidemic locally, vows to continue its vital role in educating the public.
Additionally, the group offered a limited number of Naloxone kits to people who might have frequent contact with a heroin addict, such as family members and close friends. The kits, made possible through grants received by the Lebanon County Commission on Drug & Alcohol Abuse, would normally cost around $150. The kits include two doses of the life-saving drug, which can be administered through both syringe and a nasal spray application. Naloxone is marketed to the public under brand names including Narcan and Evzio, and the generic form of the drug is commonly referred to as either.
“It is very emotional to live with someone or love someone who is addicted to heroin and to not know – are they going to OD today?” said Lebanon Mayor Sherry Capello, who believes putting Naloxone directly into the hands of addicts’ family members is a smart move. “To know that possibly they could save their life by using the Narcan.”
When used properly and administered shortly into an overdose episode, Naloxone, which blocks opiate receptors in the brain, effectively reversing the effects of opioids, including heroin. The drug is already commonly carried by emergency responders including paramedics and police officers who frequently encounter overdoses.
In order to receive a free Naloxone kit, people attending Wednesday’s event were required to register and complete a 20-minute computer training session, certifying them in the proper use of the drug. Organizers believed demand would be high enough to distribute all 40 kits made available at the event.
Through continuing work of the Task Force, Capello believes people in her city are beginning to understand the weight of the heroin addiction issue. As more residents are touched personally by the epidemic through an addicted friend or family member, old stereotypes about “junkies” are being set aside. In the modern opioid epidemic, addicts are born of all socioeconomic backgrounds, where prescription drugs serve as the gateway to heroin.
“We’re talking about the average joe,” Capello said. “Someone who is working in the corporate world gets in an accident, gets addicted to pain killers, unfortunately, and their prescriptions run out, and they turn to what’s on the street: heroin.”