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DEA: York County 4th in drug overdose deaths in state

Sean Philip Cotter, and Greg Gross
York Dispatch

York County is tied for the fourth most drug-overdose deaths in the state in 2014, according to a federal report.

The DEA report released Tuesday identifies heroin as the biggest culprit — 69 of the 118 drug-related deaths the county saw last year were related to heroin.

York County Coroner Pam Gay said her office recorded 62 heroin-related deaths in 2014. The disparity may mean the DEA uses different criteria to define heroin-related deaths.

Regardless of the difference in numbers, Gay said one thing is certain: York County and Pennsylvania has a heroin problem.

"It's still very much an issue," she said. "It (heroin) is deadly regardless. It's not a recreational drug."

Heroin was also the leading killer in terms of drug overdoses statewide. About 52 percent, or 1,293, of the 2,497 drug deaths in 2014, were blamed on heroin, according to the report.

Death rising: Heroin-related deaths this year are on pace to surpass the record number of deaths in 2014.

So far, there have been 46 confirmed heroin-related deaths and there have been 10 additional suspected heroin-related deaths.

This time last year, there were 48 heroin-related deaths.

Despite the uptick, it could have been much worse, Gay said.

About 70 people have been saved by Naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, she said.

Without the lifesaving drug — a non-addictive nasal or intravenous treatment that revives those who have overdosed — the number of deaths this year would have easily surpassed last year's total, Gay said.

"So we could have been double what we had last year," she said.

An act of the state Legislature allowed police officers and other first response professionals and a county-wide Narcan program was instituted earlier this year. It has since been made available without a prescription at numerous pharmacies.

The report: The report noted many of the most affected counties are more rural. Philadelphia had the highest rate per 100,000 people, but  the more sparsely populated Susquehanna, Cambria, Fayette and Wayne counties follow it up.

York County is sixth on that list with 26.77 per 100,000 people.

The report also breaks down the demographics of the people who died of overdoses. In York County, 111 of the 118 were white, three Hispanic, one black and three unknown.

Fentanyl, a strong opioid with which dealers often cut heroin, was found in 25 of the dead in York County, which has a population of just over 440,000.

Forty-eight of the people who overdosed were between 31 and 48, the report states. It says 36 were between 18 and 30, 26 between 46 and 60, six older than 60 and two younger than 18.

Prevention: Gay's office, the York County District Attorney's Office, and others have been working to prevent heroin use — and deaths —  through education in the form of the York County Heroin Task Force.

Heroin Task Force

The group holds regular informational meetings, but there is still a stigma about heroin users, Gay said, noting she received a tweet recent that said we should let heroin users die.

The increase in heroin-related deaths for the past couple of years can be pinned to a crackdown on prescription opioid drugs, which have become increasingly expensive on the streets. The cheaper alternative is heroin, she said.

"I think more and more people are realizing it is a problem," Gay said.

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com

York County drug deaths by the numbers

  • 77: Males
  • 41: Females
  • 2: Age 17 and under
  • 36: Ages 18 to 30
  • 48: Ages 31 to 45
  • 26: Ages 46 to 60
  • 6: Age 61 and over

York County Heroin Task Force

The York County Heroin Task Force will hold an educational meeting at the York Township municipal building, 190 Oak Road, on Wednesday, Dec. 2, at 7 p.m.

For more information about the meeting and the task force, go to herointaskforce.com