In the mind of an addict
Addiction can push people to do things they wouldn't normally.
According to York County Coroner Pam Gay, some addicts can reach a point where it's less about getting high and more about avoiding the symptoms of withdrawal.
"The opioid supersedes everything else," Gay said. "They're very focused on themselves. They'll do almost anything for that. They give up on sleep, relationships and even sex to get the drugs they need."
A York Township man shot by a state trooper at the entrance of the Shrewsbury Walmart Thursday night had just used a sawed-off shotgun to rob the store pharmacy of four boxes of fentanyl patches, according to charging documents. Police have not said whether Thomas Allen Markowski, 57, of 2716 Crestview Drive, was planning to use the drug himself.
Gay said the man could have had a legal prescription for the patches, but said she didn't know for sure.
"Most addicts are not violent," she said. "That's an unusual stretch. There's still a lot of people who don't think addiction is a disease."
The coroner co-chairs the York County Heroin Task Force. She said opioids are one of the biggest gateway drugs that leads to heroin use and addiction. Opioids stimulate the dopamine receptors in the brain, causing intense feelings of joy and possible relaxing.
"Sometimes an opioid stimulates that receptor more than anything else has or can," Gay said. "It basically retrains the brain so that's the only thing the person wants. That's why we think the 30-day programs aren't long enough, because you have to retrain the brain again."
Gay said she's seen four confirmed heroin overdoses and 12 suspected heroin overdoses in York County so far this year. There are more drug-related overdoses, Gay said, but not as many as heroin-caused deaths.
Lately, Gay said she's seen more heroin laced with fentanyl, a narcotic used to chronic treat pain. The drug comes in both pill and patch form and can be more powerful than morphine, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Studies are still being done to compare the two.
Some addicts will dissolve the patches and inject it, something Gay said is extremely dangerous.
"Because it's so much stronger, they can die easier," she said.
— Reach Katherine Ranzenberger at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @YDKatherine.