EDITORIAL: Heroin: No time to rest

York Dispatch

The record number of heroin-related deaths last year in York County unfortunately was not an anomaly.

To date this year, there have been 17 confirmed overdose deaths and eight more that are still under investigation but are expected to be heroin-related.

By mid-July last year, when the average resident was just starting to grasp the scope of York County's heroin epidemic, there had been 29 heroin-related deaths.

The scary thing is although our community is on track to match last year's deadly toll, it could have been even worse.

How many more people would have died from heroin had 2014's record 62 heroin and heroin-related deaths not focused attention on the problem and galvanized efforts to combat it?

Although York is among the hardest-hit counties, heroin is a statewide problem. Late last year the state Legislature responded with a law allowing police officers — often first on the scene of overdoses — to carry and use naloxone, a heroin overdose antidote also known by the brand name Narcan.

Since the beginning of April, when all York County police departments began carrying the drug, officers have saved 26 lives with Narcan, according to Dave Sunday, the chief deputy prosecutor for the district attorney's office, which administers the drug program.

Twenty-six lives were saved, but the heroin crisis clearly is alive and well, too.

The York County Heroin Task Force, a vocal supporter of the Narcan legislation, is leading a multi-pronged attack here at home.

Its efforts include educating the public, working to improve treatment services in the county and making sure police have the tools they need to go after suppliers.

We admit we hoped such work would be showing better results by now. Wishful thinking, perhaps, based on the local response to the heroin epidemic.

But, as Gay said, the "problem didn't happen overnight, and it's not going to go away that easily."

We can help by championing the task force's priorities, such as calling for more and better addiction treatment options in York County, supporting the use of drug-forfeiture funds to pay for early drug education and utilizing prescription drug drop-off sites around the county.

The fact is heroin addiction affects all walks of life, and none of us can afford to let our guard down now.