Drug overdoses are becoming an epidemic in Pennsylvania. York County is among the top in the state, but this ranking isn’t a good one. According to a report from the State Coroners’ Association, out of 67 counties, York is fifth in the state for drug overdose deaths, with more than 100 last year.
“One hundred twenty is pretty bad. Sixty-two of those are heroin-related, and the remainder are largely prescription drug overdoses, almost all were prescription drug overdoses,” said York County Coroner Pam Gay.
The four counties that topped York County differ in population. “The counties around Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are much more highly populated than York. It was very eye-opening, although I wasn’t totally surprised, to see us in red with them on that map, it was sobering,” said Gay.
York County officials have a plan to fight this problem, but one of those tools is being held up in the legal system. Gay has been working to turn this troubling trend around. She helps lead the York County Heroin Task Force and also hopes a new law will help. It establishes a prescription drug database for doctors and patients statewide. “We feel that if doctors and pharmacists have an opportunity to reference that database and be able to see who is prescribed what, and to avoid hopefully duplication, and people doctor shopping, as they say,” said Gay.
The database was scheduled to go into effect June 30, 2015 but it likely won't. "We passed the prescription drug database last year, and it was signed by the governor, but there was not funding allocated for that database to become operational," said State Senator Scott Wagner (R- York County). Wagner voted for the law and has faith it will help. But, like others he didn't realize funding wasn't included. With a price tag of around $1 million it will take much longer than expected.
"It is moving forward and we are going to get it up and operational but it may not be operational until the end of the year. So that's probably a nine month lag from where we expected it to start. When you pass a law that is supposed to do something good for everyone in Pennsylvania and you don't have the money to do it, that's a problem," said Senator Wagner.