Could Lancaster County finally be making some headway against the opioid crisis?
From Jan. 1 through March 30, drug overdoses claimed the lives of 38 people in the county, versus about 60 in the first three months of 2017, said county Coroner Stephen Diamantoni.
But it’s too early to say whether the epidemic is starting to recede, he said.
Drug deaths surge and ebb unpredictably, he said, depending on what’s available out on the street, how potent it is and what it’s mixed with.
Countywide, more than 160 people died from overdoses in 2017, up more than 40 percent from 2016. The vast majority were opioid-related.
Diamantoni said the county is seeing fewer deaths this year from fentanyl, a synthetic opioid.
Last year, street drugs being sold as heroin were actually fentanyl or a fentanyl-heroin mix, he said. That’s potentially lethal, because fentanyl is far more powerful.
“People don’t know what they’re buying,” Diamantoni said.
In a March 27 presentation to Lancaster City Council, acting city police Chief Jarrad Berkihiser said the department responded to 517 overdose calls in 2017, versus 290 in 2016.
While a few cases involved homeless people, the majority of overdose calls were to an address, he said.
Officers administered naloxone, an emergency antidote used to revive overdose victims, 140 times in 2017, he said.
Since 2016, the Lancaster County district attorney’s office has charged roughly 40 people with “drug delivery resulting in death” in connection with fatal opioid overdoses, spokesman Brett Hambright said.
The office has dozens more investigations under way that could result in the same charge, he said.
In January, Gov. Tom Wolf declared the opioid crisis a statewide emergency.
The declaration notes there were 4,642 fatal overdoses in Pennsylvania in 2016, up 37 percent from 2015.
Officials expect the toll for 2017 to be higher. Final numbers have not been released, as it can take up to three months for health departments to receive toxicology reports.