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Students and York County residents alike filled the Glatfelter Community Room of the Cytec Building of HACC York for one thing: To learn more about the heroin epidemic that has hit the area over the past year.

HACC held a public forum on the recent heroin epidemic Monday, and York County Heroin Task Force members York County Coroner Pam Gay, Chief Deputy Coroner Claude Stabley and Deputy Senior Prosecutor Dave Sunday were there to educate and answer questions.

York County has seen 37 deaths from heroin-related overdoses this year so far. Gay said there are 14 incidents that still need to be confirmed but are strongly believed to be heroin-related, putting the total overdoses at 51, which she said is about six more than last year's overdoses at this time.

Myths: Gay presented the myths of heroin. Gay said that heroin may be injected, snorted, smoked, injected or ingested in pill form. She said that the pill form has not been seen in York County yet, but added that all methods are addictive.

She said most people assume that the overdoses come from York City, but in reality the people who are found having overdosed in the city come from rural and suburban areas.

She also addressed the perception that overdoses are a form of suicide; in reality most who die from overdosing did not intend to kill themselves.

Stabley said a common misconception is people thinking the victim died of heroin because it was a "bad batch."

"There is no 'good' batch of heroin," Stabley said, adding that there could be any number of things in the mix, sometimes even rat poison.

Another misconception is that heroin is the sole drug in the system killing the person.

"It's rare that we see only heroin as the substance that's in the body," he said.

Gay agreed that the number of heroin-only deaths would be low because there are almost always other things in the mix. She said that they're called "heroin-related" because heroin is the last drug to be put in the body. Stabley said most of the time an overdose victim will be found with a syringe in their arm or in their hand.

Facts: Stabley said that while heroin is initially used to get high, eventually people use heroin to keep from getting sick from withdrawal. He said that the withdrawals are described as "the worst flu you can imagine, times 100."

Stabley spoke about the human and economic toll of the epidemic, calling it "incredible," and said it affects everyone in the U.S.

He said that businesses are impacted because the drug habit leads to shoplifting and more crime, as well as providing payment for drug testing, sick time and rehab time for employees.

"It increases the cost of pretty much everything in society," he said.

Stabley talked about common indicators of heroin use, such as seeing needles and syringes in someone's home when they aren't needed.

Stabley said that a lot of deaths come from people recently released from rehab, who relapse and attempt to put the same dose of heroin in the body that they had prior to getting clean, and that causes death quickly.

Gay said the amount of heroin related deaths more than tripled from 2013 to 2014, with 17 in 2013 and 62 in 2014.

Narcan: In April police were given Narcan, a drug that can reverse the effects of an overdose. Gay said that as of last week there have been 60 lives saved by police using Narcan since April.

"While we know that it's not the cure, we know that it does save lives," she said.

She said that there has not been a decrease in overdoses since the Narcan was introduced in April, but it has still prevented many deaths.

"Our deaths would be so much worse if it wasn't for Narcan," she said.

A battle: Deputy Senior Prosecutor Dave Sunday also spoke about the epidemic in York County.

"This is not an easy battle," he said. "You're not only fighting a drug, you're fighting a stigma."

Sunday recounted a story of a Hanover woman who would go into York City twice a day to get heroin and had a hit put on her when she could not pay her dealer. Even after she found out about the hit on her, she still went to the city to get heroin from a different dealer.

"Think of the power that drug had over her to do that," he said.

She was shot by a 16-year-old boy who is in prison for 20-40 years, he said.

Sunday added that the woman survived the shots, and she is still using and recently got a DUI.

"This isn't a story, this isn't on TV, this is real life," he said.

Sunday said he is "sick and tired" of seeing people go to jail for heroin and drugs.

"You can't arrest your way out of this problem," he said.

Sunday said that he does not want another issue to take the place of the heroin epidemic, saying that the epidemic is not a "fad."

When asked why heroin was so prevalent in York County, Sunday cited location and proximity to Baltimore as some of the problems. He said the major roads bring in drugs from Philadelphia and New York City, and Baltimore is considered the "heroin capital of the U.S." due to its ports.

Stabley added that another issue is there are a lot of recovery houses in York County, and dealers target people in them hoping to get them to relapse.

The Heroin Task Force will be part of another town hall meeting from 7 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 19 at Dover Area High School.

— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at cdornblaser@yorkdispatch.com

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