Lancaster County Coroner Stephen Diamantoni predicted early last year that drug overdoses would soon reach record levels here.
He was right.
The number of fatal drug overdoses in Lancaster County spiked at a rate that was twice as rapid than in the rest of Pennsylvania in 2015, data provided by the coroner’s office and compiled by LNP show.
The new findings illustrate the severity of the drug crisis here, which is primarily fueled by the easy availability and low cost of heroin.
"It's an epidemic that's taking the lives of individuals and it's having a terrible impact on our community," said Diamantoni, who performed autopsies on many of the victims.
There were 136 overdoses in the county over the most recent two years — 56 in 2014 and 80 in 2015. That’s a 43 percent increase over one year’s time.
Figures released Tuesday by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration showed drug overdoses claimed 3,383 lives in Pennsylvania during 2015, up 23 percent from 2014. The report found the most dramatic increases in western Pennsylvania.
The majority of the deaths were from heroin. But the painkiller fentanyl caused the second-highest number of deaths in Pennsylvania.
Here, the most common killer was heroin mixed with one or more other drugs.
Profile of a user
The typical overdose victim in Lancaster County and across the state continues to be a white male from 30 to 39 years old who lives in a suburban or rural area.
While the federal government moved Wednesday to authorize funds for more treatment and accountability of opioid prescriptions, the money will not start to flow until 2017.
"More resources are always welcome," said the executive director of the county's Drug and Alcohol Commission, Rick Kastner.
"But it's kind of a good news, bad news situation. The good news is the funding is available more than ever, but the bad news is all the beds are filled in all the detoxes and rehabs," said Kastner.
"Although there are more people needing treatment, there are more people not getting into treatment."
He said there is a long lag time between the need for more drug treatment and the speed by which a drug treatment facility can expand or build additional room. But he has met with several facilities and urged them to expand.
Kastner noted that only about 12 percent of those struggling with addiction issues are actually seeking treatment at a given time.
"If everybody who had an addiction woke up tomorrow wanting treatment, we would need 10 times the number of beds we now have," Kastner said.
Federal legislation that has passed in both the House and Senate would expand prevention and education aimed at teens, parents and other caretakers, and older people who use opioids.
The bill, called the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act would allocate money to treat prisoners suffering from addiction disorders and launching prescription drug monitoring programs.
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey helped craft the bill, which is designed to better monitor people who are getting multiple prescriptions paid for by Medicare and Medicaid.
Toomey said in conference call Tuesday that the legislation could save taxpayers $200 million over the next 10 years by cutting off opioids that are diverted for illegal purposes or are being taken in an unsafe manner.
"We will very likely diminish these incidents if we have the tools to identify them," Toomey said.