Local experts revealed a grim reality about heroin Monday night to a large crowd in Lititz: It’s everywhere and the epidemic might get worse before it gets better.
A panel including local law-enforcers, a judge, a coroner and a recovering addict spoke about how prevalent heroin has become in Lancaster County – Lititz specifically – in showing it’s not just an urban problem, but has broken all municipal, social and economic bounds.
ASAP (Action for Substance Abuse Prevention) Lititz hosted the event and assembled the panel at Lancaster Evangelical Free Church on Pierson Road.
Dr. Stephen Diamantoni, Lancaster County’s coroner, told the crowd of hundreds that 23 people died here this year from heroin overdose. In all, 47 people have died from drug overdose.
The victims are men, women, young, middle-aged and old.
“This is not a disease strictly for the young and the foolish,” Diamantoni said of addiction.
Lititz police Officer Stephen Detz, while showing the crowd a startling map of overdose events in the Lititz-area, said heroin has killed 12 people in their town since 2008. There have been 43 emergency heroin overdoses there since 2012, Detz said.
“It’s everywhere,” Officer Detz told the crowd, many of their gazes fixated on the map. “It’s the entire town.”
District Attorney Craig Stedman said “it’s going to get worse before it gets better.” He pointed to heroin–related arrests tripling in recent years.
Lancaster General Hospital doctors, Stedman said, tended to over 160 emergency heroin-overdose patients last year – quadrupling 2012’s total.
“The price is lives,” Stedman said. “We’re losing lives every day to this.”
“It’s a massive, massive problem,” Stedman said, discussing drug relation in crimes. “Almost all property crimes [burglaries, thefts from vehicles] are related to drugs.”
County Judge David Ashworth stressed that most dealers of the drug deserve prison. Users – those afflicted with the disease of addiction, he said – need treatment, or they’ll be in and out of police stations and courtrooms.
“The fact we’re talking about heroin [tonight] is tremendous,” the judge said.
Perhaps most startling was data provided by a lieutenant with Lancaster EMS. Robert Patterson III said his agency has responded to 732 emergency drug-overdose calls this year in Lancaster County.
Most frustrating, he said, is after saving a patient’s life, EMS is powerless: They can’t commit a patient to rehab or a hospital without their say-so.
Also on the panel were:
Northern Lancaster Regional police Chief David Steffen, CompassMark CEO Carol Kuntz, and Matt, a recovering addict.
Matt told the crowd his addiction started with marijuana and alcohol before transitioning to prescription pills. Like so many other heroin addicts, the pills became too expensive, so he moved to heroin, a much cheaper alternative.
“When the ends [money] aren’t there, it was a no-brainer to go to heroin,” he said. “Once heroin had its teeth in me, it was a game-changer.”
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