In Luzerne County, Coroner William Lisman has seen the rise of drug-related casualties skyrocket since late fall 2015, furthering the opioid crisis in our region. When a young woman came into the morgue he suspected a drug overdose, however, toxicology reports came back negative. He soon discovered many more such cases in neighboring counties and investigated further. The fatal drug that was creating a surge in casualties was fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is often used to cut heroin. In 2016 there were 137 deaths caused by drugs, more than half of which were caused by heroin laced with fentanyl. While that might not seem like a staggering amount, that rate is four times higher than New York City. In an interview with NBC News Lisman says, “Twenty years ago, we might have 12 deaths we determined to be drug deaths. This year we are on track for 150 deaths…By our standards, it’s off the charts.”
Why has there been such a rise in heroin use/deaths in the past two years? Some researchers say it’s because of how unhappy residents are. Two years ago the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre metro area was officially named the most unhappy place in the US. This conclusion was arrived at by examining data from telephone polls between 2005 and 2009, as well as looking at other factors like the economy and job growth. Lisman thinks that “the heroin plague” is a symptom of the way people here feel and have felt for years. “I don’t have an answer for opiate addiction,” he said, his smile fading fast. “The pain and suffering that it has caused is unbelievable. It is eating away at the core of society.”
In order to try and prevent an increase in opioid-related deaths in 2017, the State Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs is aiming to crack down on prescription opioid abuse through the use of a database monitoring program. They hope that this will help to prevent future drug addiction. When those who abuse prescription opioids are no longer able to get them through a pharmacy they may turn to the street to get their fix.
The risk of a fatal overdose increases significantly when buying a product that may be laced with fentanyl, which is highly lethal in small doses. The equivalent of a grain of sand of pure fentanyl can kill a person the first time they use it. Because it’s so potent, it’s used to cut heroin, increasing profits for dealers. Law enforcement is hard at work trying to get as much illegal product off of the street as they can, but it continues to be readily available to those who seek it out.
Last September almost 20,000 households across Pennsylvania took part in a Telephone Town Hall meeting with area legislators to talk about the opioid crisis in the state. The event was part of an effort to educate families on the epidemic, as well as answer questions. “As a professional who has dedicated 42 years in the field of substance use disorders and addiction treatment, the message that Senator Yaw and his fellow senators bring to their communities regarding the heroin and prescription opioid epidemic is of the utmost importance at this time,” said Andrew Sullivan, Former President & CEO of Mazzitti & Sullivan, a Harrisburg-based counseling service providing individualized treatment for addiction. “Educating our communities that there are actions being taken to address the epidemic, drawing all the services together, law enforcement, treatment providers, medical professionals, faith-based organizations, and all stakeholders will lead to de-stigmatizing this medical disorder.”
In 2016 Governor Tom Wolf stated that fighting the opioid and heroin crisis in Pennsylvania was a top priority for his administration. He hosted roundtable discussions with other elected officials, as well as law enforcement and health care professionals in order to address local and statewide efforts in combating the opioid crisis. He went on to say, “These roundtables are an opportunity to work collaboratively with the General Assembly and community leaders to ensure Pennsylvania leads the nation in the fight to combat the opioid abuse and heroin use crisis.”
As part of the efforts in the fight against heroin, State Police will be equipped with naloxone so that troopers who arrive at the scene of an overdose will be able to provide this life-saving drug immediately. The Department of Health is doing their part by further educating medical professionals including doctors, dentists, and pharmacists on guidelines for safe and effective pain relief practices with an emphasis on non-opioid treatments. The hope is that by decreasing the number of prescriptions for opioid medication, the number of those who find themselves addicted will also decrease.
In Lackawanna County, the District Attorney Shane Scanlon created the initiative Heroin Hits Home which seeks to educate local residents on the opioid crisis in their community and provide resources for getting help. Many initiatives like this are popping up not only in NEPA but across the country.
Unfortunately, because of the stigma still attached to addiction, people often go without seeking help when the really need it. Those that are friends and family of an addict are key players in one’s recovery and are often instrumental in getting a user help. Detoxification and rehabilitation remain in the forefront as ways in which the opioid crisis can be managed on an individual level before it’s too late. Please learn the signs of addiction, and if you know someone that you suspect might be an addict, or if you’re an addict yourself, get help before it’s too late.
Contact Clearbrook Treatment Centers
Unfortunately, the region of Northeastern Pennsylvania has been hit especially hard by the opioid crisis. Day in and day out, we hear of another person who has lost their battle to addiction. If you or someone you love is suffering from addiction, please do not wait any longer! Clearbrook Treatment Centers has been effectively treating alcoholism and drug addiction for more than 4 decades. Please allow us to help you and make today the day you decide to get better. Please contact our Admissions Specialists today and get on the road to recovery.