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Study: York County third in state for rate of hospitalizations from opioid overdoses

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

There was very little good news for Pennsylvania in a recently released report on opioid addictions, and experts already are warning the next report could be worse because of the coronavirus.

New statistics showed that York County had the third-highest rate of hospitalizations for opioid overdoses in the state last year, according to data published by the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council.

The data, recorded from July 2018 through June 19, 2019, compiled numbers for opioid overdoses, maternal hospital stays involving opioids, newborns with neonatal abstinence syndrome and opioid use disorder. 

The study reported there were 113 York County residents admitted to hospitals for an opioid overdose, with a rate of 30.8 per 100,000 residents, which puts the county third behind only Philadelphia and Lawrence counties. There were 2,541 statewide hospitalizations for opioid overdose, with a rate of 23.9 per 100,000 residents.

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There were 1,229 patients in York County admitted to the hospital last year for opioid use disorder, a "problematic" pattern of opioid use that causes "significant impairment or distress," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number placed York County fifth in the state. At the state level, there were 31,231 hospitalizations with diagnoses of opioid use disorder last year — a nearly 7% decrease from 2017, according to PHC4.

For maternal hospital stays involving opioids, York County reported 73 patients at a rate of 15.9 per 1,000 maternal stays. Statewide, those numbers were 2,627 maternal hospital stays involving opioids, at a rate of 19.5 maternal stays per 1,000. 

Lastly, the study reported 66 hospital stays in York County for newborns with neonatal abstinence syndrome, a withdrawal syndrome of infants after birth caused by exposure to drugs while in the womb. The rate in York County was 15.2 per 1,000. Statewide, there were 1,733 hospital stays for newborns, with a rate of 13.8 per 1,000 stays.

"The purpose in releasing the (fiscal year) 2019 numbers today was to set a baseline for future reporting, since the COVID-19 pandemic could have detrimental effects on the opioid crisis," Joe Martin, the executive director of PHC4, said earlier this month.

York County Coroner Pam Gay hands out information during a Heroin Task Force rally on Continental Square in York to bring awareness to "Don't run, call 911," Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015.  John A. Pavoncello - jpavoncello@yorkdispatch.com

Pandemic: Officials said the opioid epidemic has been worsened by COVID-19.

Individuals struggling with opioid addiction are having a harder time avoiding relapse because of quarantine guidelines — such as limitations on social gatherings — that have made in-person therapy sessions for support and encouragement of those battling addiction limited.

"Addiction is often referred to as a disease of isolation," said Brittany Shutz, the executive director for the York Opioid Collaborative. "We believe there's a correlation between the quarantine measures put in place to mitigate COVID-19 and the increase in behavioral health crises in our community."

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As of April 9 in York County, emergency medical services had issued 634 total doses of naloxone, a medication used to block the effects of opioids. At the same time last year, EMS had distributed 491 total doses with patients requiring naloxone.

Additionally, York County had seen 72 fatal overdoses as of May 5 — 27 more than at this time last year, York County Coroner Pam Gay said. 

"This matches trends being seen in other communities where substance use and mental health crises are up," Shutz said.

Brittany Shutz speaks to the York County Board of Commissioners Wednesday, May 1, 2019, after being hired as Executive Director of the York Opioid Collaborative.

She also noted that disruptions to daily routines, unemployment, changes in treatment and isolation can all be triggers for relapse. 

"The public health crises facing our community prior to COVID-19 haven’t gone away," Shutz said. "And we need to continue to engage, treat and support those individuals."

Response: The York Opioid Collaborative is continuing to work with local and regional partners to develop a "pandemic response" in order to curb opioid-related overdoses and deaths.

Many individuals have taken to the virtual world through phone and video chatting in order to continue sessions. Shutz also suggested friends and family members do daily check-ins with loved ones battling substance abuse as another effective method for helping support individuals overcoming addiction. 

Shutz said there were several resources to provide help, including the state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs' hotline at 1-800-662-HELP.

She also pointed to organizations providing online meetings, including Narcotics Anonymous and Smart Recovery.

"An important thing for the community to know is that although changes have occurred within treatment facilities to prevent exposure to COVID-19, our treatment facilities remain open and available to help," Shutz said. "There is a lot of support and education available via virtual platforms."

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.