Anti-heroin rally message: Overdose witnesses won't be charged if they call 911


So far this year, there have been 37 confirmed and 15 suspected deaths from heroin overdose, said York County Coroner Pam Gay.

Gay stood behind a table at a rally Sunday in Continental Square that was organized by the county's Heroin Task Force, giving out informative leaflets and brochures.

The purpose of the rally, Gay said, was to raise awareness of the Good Samaritan law. The law, passed last November, protects people who witness an overdose from prosecution if they call the police and cooperate fully with law enforcement, Gay said.

"A lot of people don't know about that part of the law," Gay said.

Loved ones lost: About 25 people came to the rally to support the cause and remember loved ones lost to heroin.

Charlene Sciarretta of Shrewsbury said she lost her son to the drug 11 years ago.

"The reason this is important to me is that they didn't make the call for Danny," she said. "They left him in his car."

Sciarretta said she has been involved with the task force since it was started last year.

Amanda Lentz of Spring Grove displayed a sign to those driving past on Market Street. She said she lost a brother to heroin last July.

"My brother had been clean for a few months. ... It was unexpected," she said.

According to Gay, that scenario is common.

"Most of our decedents have been in rehab or have just gotten out of prison," she said. When they have been clean for a long time and have no tolerance built up, they are more vulnerable and can more easily overdose, she said.

Education: County Commissioner Doug Hoke and commissioner candidate Susan Byrnes also participated in the rally.

"I think the biggest thing the task force is doing is spreading awareness — going into schools," said Hoke, who is on the task force.

Gay said that she and other members of the task force give presentations in high schools, while the Susan P. Byrnes Health Education Center works to inform middle-school students about the dangers of heroin.

Many high-schoolers say they know kids who use heroin and know where to get it, Gay said.

But prescription drugs are a bigger problem in schools, she said. People often switch to heroin in their 20s because it's cheaper.

York is among the worst counties in the state for heroin overdoses, Gay said, perhaps because of its proximity to Baltimore, which some refer to as the heroin capital of the United States.

In Baltimore, Gay said she knows from working closely with law enforcement, heroin is only $2 to $3 a bag. In York, it can sell for up to $10. But it takes two to three prescription pills to get the same effect as a bag of heroin, and those can cost $30 to $50 each, she said.

When people start to use heroin, they develop a tolerance and need more and more of the drug to keep from getting sick, she said.

— Reach Julia Scheib at