Lancaster County’s overdose death rate climbed faster from 2014 to 2015 than the average increase across Pennsylvania.
Drug overdose deaths increased in the state in that year by 23 percent, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Lancaster County’s rate jumped 33 percent.
The rate has stabilized this year in Lancaster County, likely due to countless Narcan saves by medics, doctors and police officers.
Eighty people died in Lancaster County last year from accidental drug overdoses – two-thirds of those involving heroin, according to a DEA report released this week.
The rate has leveled off: as of last week, the halfway point of the year, 36 people in the county died of overdose, according to Coroner Dr. Stephen Diamantoni’s office.
Widespread use of the medication Naloxone (brand name Narcan), which can reverse opioid overdose, is constantly saving lives.
“The statistics are deceptively low,” Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman said Thursday. “But for the fact we have our first responders using Naloxone, the deaths would be much higher and thus show the heroin problem is actually getting worse.”
In July 2015, District Attorney Craig Stedman’s office distributed 388 doses of Narcan to police officers, allowing for every active police vehicle in the county to be equipped with a dose.
Since then, over 100 replacement doses have been requested and dispersed to police.
There is an 83 percent success rate - meaning the patient lived - in documented law-enforcement administered cases.
Through May, there have been 56 documented Narcan saves by law-enforcement since police started using the doses, according to data compiled by Lancaster EMS.
Narcan saves by other emergency-responders and hospital personnel would far exceed that number.
INCREASE NEARLY EVERYWHERE
While Narcan has helped slow the death rate, there is little in the DEA report to indicate heroin and opioid use has slowed in Pennsylvania.
From 2014 to 2015, Dauphin County’s overdose death rate jumped 52 percent; Berks County’s rate climbed 21 percent; Lebanon County’s rate by 11 percent.
More than half of all drug overdose deaths in Pennsylvania last year involved heroin.
“The heroin scourge is without question getting worse and we have a daunting task in front of us,” Stedman said.
Many of the state’s rural counties experienced the biggest increases, as the heroin scourge continues to spread far beyond urban areas.
The rate doubled in Columbia, Huntingdon and Monroe counties; it tripled in Indiana County.
FENTANYL ON THE RISE
Also alarming in the DEA report is the steep increase of fentanyl-involved deaths.
Fentanyl is 40 to 50 times stronger than heroin being sold on the street, according to the DEA. Produced in Mexico, fentanyl is often mixed with pure heroin in the cutting process, before a dealer bags the product for street sales.
Fentanyl was involved in twenty-one percent of overdose deaths last year in Lancaster County.
Statewide, overdose deaths involving fentanyl nearly doubled from 2014 to 2015.
NOTE: The DEA complied its report from data submitted by coroners across the state.
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