- Susan BaldRidge Staff Writer Updated Oct 5, 2015 Comments
Dan Marschka /Staff
The number of heroin deaths is surging in Lancaster County despite a renewed focus on treating addicts and the widespread use of a drug that can reverse overdoses.
The death toll from heroin in the first nine months of 2015 has already surpassed the total for all of last year and is likely to double as addicts are being turned away from detox centers that are at full capacity, officials said.
“It will likely be a 100 percent increase over last year,” said Dr. Stephen G. Diamantoni, the Lancaster County coroner. “It’s very sad. It’s clear that heroin is widely available and far less expensive than in the past. I think it’s become a more popular option than any other drug.”
Despite a greater focus statewide on the heroin crisis and the expanded use of the heroin antidote naloxone, 29 people have died of heroin or opiate overdoses through September.
In all of 2014, there were 20.
This year the county saw its 20th heroin-related death before the end of June.
The coroner said he’s seen more young people overdose on heroin this year than in previous years. Although the exact data will not be available on who’s overdosing until the end of the year, the coroner said more high school-aged teens overdosed in 2015.
“I think when something becomes this widely available,” he said. “You can expect younger users to access the drug.”
Lancaster County Coroner Dr. Stephen Diamantoni
No beds for detox
These grim milestones come as treatment options grow more scarce. Last week every single detox bed in Lancaster County was filled and there was a waiting list.
White Deer Run Treatment Centers have more than 120 detox beds across seven different facilities in Pennsylvania, but none are open, said Stephanie Conkle, a senior adviser for admissions at White Deer Run’s national call center, in Carlsbad, California.
There is one detox center in Lancaster County for men that has seven potential openings. The closest detox facility for women is in York.
“When clients call, we tell them we will do a bed search but they often have to wait,” said Conkle. “Pennsylvania is one of the hardest places to find a bed and in Lancaster (County) there are none.”
Conkle said the scarcity of beds is a result of the high demand for drug treatment in central Pennsylvania.
Rick Kastner, executive director of the Lancaster County Drug and Alcohol Commission, confirmed that finding a place for addicts who want treatment in a facility right now is “problematic.”
Kastner said typically addicts continue their “drug of choice” when no bed is available to avoid going through withdrawal without support.
Not just Lancaster
Lancaster is not the only county in the region experiencing increases in heroin use.
Lebanon County government officials announced the formation of a heroin task force this week as their overdose tally hit 17 deaths — almost the same number they had in all of 2014.
York County, which had one of the highest overdose rates in the region last year at 64, has reported 28 confirmed heroin deaths and 14 pending.
“But we could have been looking at twice that many deaths if we wouldn’t have had more than 40 saves by Narcan (the heroin antidote),” said York County Coroner Pam Gay.
“Heroin use is still significant here,” she said.