EDITORIAL: Lives are at stake
The calls come over the scanner every day.
"... Drive, Penn Township, for an overdose, class 1."
In the middle of the afternoon, early in the morning, 8 p.m., 11 p.m., 11 a.m., 2 a.m., 5 p.m. Those of us who listen to the scanner constantly hear the same calls again and again.
"Good evening, York Hospital, I have a 26-year-old female, found unresponsive. She's received two doses of Narcan ..."
York County has been hit hard by the opioid crisis. So far this year, York County has seen 40 confirmed drug deaths, 35 of them heroin related, with 17 more suspected overdose deaths pending, according to the York County Coroner's Office.
Over the past few months, we've seen more and more drug dealers charged with delivery resulting in death after their customers die. Judge Craig Trebilcock last week handed down the maximum sentence for McKenzie Reese, who sold Arissa Clymer, 21, the heroin and fentanyl that killed her on Aug. 15, 2015. Trebilcock said dealers have come to expect to serve a couple of years in prison if their clients die, that some jail time is "the cost of doing business."
Trebilcock wants to change that mindset.
"This is predatory behavior, and it will not be permitted to continue," he said as he sentenced Reese to 20 to 40 years followed by another seven to 14 years, ensuring that the dealer, who just turned 26, will spend at least 27 years behind bars.
"... Road, Springfield Township, for an overdose, class 1. CPR in progress ..."
Many people seem to follow the same path to addiction, starting with prescription opioid painkillers, progressing to heroin when the prescription runs out or becomes too expensive or is no longer strong enough to kill the pain or provide the high. Then the heroin becomes mixed with stronger drugs, including fentanyl.
A new agent of death made itself known in the York drug scene last week as three people overdosed on one bag of carfentanil, also known as "elephant tranquilizer" because it is used to sedate large animals. The three who overdosed survived using the drug, which is 100 times more powerful than fentanyl and 10,000 times the strength of morphine.
"... two patients, unresponsive, not breathing, suspected overdose. History of overdose calls to this address ..."
York County is on the front lines of the crisis, but it is certainly not alone. In 2015, Pennsylvania ranked sixth in the country for the rate of drug overdose deaths at 26.3 deaths per 100,000 population, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
While local and state officials are doing everything they can to stop the deaths, Congress and the Trump administration seem to be intent on making it more difficult for addicts to get help getting clean and staying clean.
The bill the House passed Thursday to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with their own American Health Care Act would both allow insurance companies to not cover substance abuse treatment and other mental health treatment and cut Medicaid.
After "Obamacare" went into effect, 11 million Americans in the 31 states that expanded Medicaid were newly covered by insurance, and of those, 1.3 million used their new coverage for substance abuse or mental health treatment. The rate of uninsured people hospitalized for substance abuse dropped from 20 percent in 2012 to 5 percent in 2015, according to researchers at Harvard Medical School and New York University.
" ... 21-year-old male, unresponsive, not breathing, slightly blue, cold to the touch, class 1 ..."
The White House, meanwhile, is considering cutting its Office of National Drug Control Policy, saving $364 million but doing away with a repository of drug facts for the administration and the means to accelerate and coordinate drug policy throughout the country. The office is responsible for spreading the word about how effective it is to allow law enforcement officers to carry naloxone, the drug that can stop an opioid overdose. Police in York County saved 232 lives in 2016 using naloxone.
These are steps in the wrong direction and show that the Republicans are more interested in saving money than in saving lives.
In 2015, drug deaths surpassed deaths by firearms for the first time. In York County, there were 118 deaths caused by drug overdoses in 2016.
This is no time to cut back on efforts to control the flow of heroin and other drugs or do away with an important resource for those trying to help addicts. Lives are at stake. Communities and families are at stake.
"... Avenue, York City, suspected overdose. Class 4. Coroner is being dispatched."