Drug abuse continues to confront communities
rugs and the havoc they wreak in peoples’ lives continue to be a problem in central Pennsylvania.
In fact, the problem might be worse than ever, according to local officials who deal with the issue.
“The numbers are continuing to climb overall,” Lycoming County Coroner Charles Kiessling said.
A comparison of last year’s drug overdose deaths to this year tells part of the story.
For all of 2020 the county saw 39 people succumb to drugs of one kind or another.
“We are in the mid-20s for drug overdoses already,” Kiessling, who too often sees the tragic aftermath of drug use, said. “We are busy, about a month ahead of numbers from last year.”
Kiessling said the potent cocktail of fentanyl and heroin can likely be blamed for many of the deaths. Fentanyl, he noted, is many times more potent then heroin and is often mixed with drugs other than heroin.
Montoursville Police Chief Jeff Guyrina told the Sun-Gazette earlier this year that there is little question that people are out there using and dealing drugs even in smaller communities such as his borough.
“Do we have a lot of users? Yes,” he said.
A sign of the growing drug problem, he said, has been the increase in vehicle break-ins. After all, drug users, he explained, have a desperate need to feed their addiction.
“There are more of them (break-ins) than ever. They need money for drugs,” he said.
Guyrina and his officers know the pattern of drug activity. Often a dealer will turn up in the community and meet a customer in a parking lot. It’s not out of the ordinary for his department to receive calls from people suspicious of such activities, but it’s impossible to keep up with all that occurs.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “You can’t arrest your way out of this.”
Guyrina said fentanyl has only added to the drug problems.
District Judge William Solomon, of Old Lycoming Township, worked for many years as a police officer and chief in the community and has seen how drugs have damaged lives.
“I said this before and I’ll say it again, we are going to lose a whole generation to heroin,” he said.
As a police officer in the 1980s, Solomon recalled how most people seemed to turn to alcohol and marijuana to get high and later cocaine.
It was many years, he said, before he made his first heroin arrest.
He called heroin, and opioids in general, the devil that gets ahold of people.
Solomon estimated that about 90 percent of thefts are likely related to drugs.
Of late, methamphetamine and cocaine has re-merged as drugs of choice for people in the area, he said.
“The heroin problem hasn’t subsided at all,” he said. “We see a good share of people doing transactions here at our local establishments. The parking lots are favorite spots. There are occasions when they buy it somewhere else and come here to shoot up. We see a lot of overdoses. We have a lot of drug transactions.”
Alex Johnson, director of operations, Emergency Department, UPMC Williamsport, said numbers of drug overdoses are indeed rising.
“Within the region, UPMC’s hospitals are trending to have more overdoses this year than in previous years since our tracking began,” he said. “Heroin isn’t as much of an issue as it used to be, but we are still seeing a lot of fentanyl-laced combinations.”
An example, he said, would be cocaine mixed with fentanyl. Needless to say, drug use is keeping many people very busy.
Tim Weaver, paramedic platoon chief, Susquehanna Regional EMS, sees his share of drug overdoses as a first responder.
“It’s a consistent issue,” he said. “Deaths are still occurring. Our primary goal is to prevent deaths.”
Naloxone, a medication that rapidly reserves an opioid overdose, is carried by all his units in the field.
To help combat the drug problems, training has evolved to education patients and their families about the problem, Weaver said.
The Warm Hand-Off Program in conjunction with West Branch Drug and Alcohol Commission identifies those with drug issues and works with them to provide resources and help.
Trained peer support personnel working in the program, including those who’ve had their own struggles with drugs, reach out to give support.