Lancaster’s Heroin crisis: Investigations of trafficking has tripled; OD deaths nearly doubled

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LANCASTER, PA- District Attorney Craig Stedman presented a sobering profile of Lancaster County’s escalating heroin problem at a recent town-hall meeting at Ephrata High School:

Heroin-dealing investigations have tripled since 2011.

Drug overdose deaths have nearly doubled in that timespan.

Drugged-driving cases have gone from very few in 1991 to over 600 last year.

Stedman told the crowd on May 26 he’s never seen anything “this pervasive” in his 25 years as a prosecutor.

He offered solutions – including continued targeting of dealers and better education for families – but acknowledged it will be an uphill struggle.

Street sale prices for heroin have never been cheaper, costing a small fraction of the price of the prescription medications that often gateway to heroin use.

More police, medical and emergency-response resources are being used now than ever before in Lancaster County for heroin-related cases, calls and duties, Stedman said.

More than 1,000 emergency-response calls here last year were drug-related.

Police and prosecutors continue to do all they can to remove dealers from Lancaster County neighborhoods, particularly those dealing in bulk (high-weight) quantities of heroin.

Removing those dealers is saving lives, Stedman said.

Lancaster County’s Drug Task Force, which works under Stedman, made 3 bulk heroin arrests in 2011 and 2012. In the 3 ½ years since, there have been 29 such arrests.

Also, police are filing charges (manslaughter or drug delivery resulting in death) against dealers in fatal heroin overdoses. A rare practice years ago, at least 8 dealers here have been charged with those offenses since 2014.

However, the district attorney told the crowd, it’s not a problem that criminal arrests alone will solve.

Arrests continue to climb, but overdose data suggests there are more users than ever.

Forty-five people died in Lancaster County in 2010 of drug-related overdoses, according to Coroner Dr. Stephen Diamantoni’s office. Last year, that number climbed to 80.

Worsening the epidemic, heroin is in such high supply, so prices have plummeted, making it a more affordable addiction than cocaine and prescription pills.

Dr. Michael Reihart, emergency medical director for Lancaster General Health, pointed to a user’s common progression from less lethal drugs, including marijuana and prescription painkillers, to heroin.

A recovering addict at the Ephrata meeting said that is precisely what happened to him: initially using prescription drugs before, eventually, being homeless shooting heroin in a big city.

Prescription pills are too costly and not as abundant as heroin. To prevent those medications from being abused, there are 18 pill drop boxes in the county for proper disposal.

Heroin makes its way to Lancaster from Mexico, through big-city stops in Philadelphia, Wilmington, Del., and New York City.

Stedman called for tighter enforcement at national borders.

As for immediate help for addicts, Stedman pointed to the pill drop boxes, and police officers equipped with the opiate antidote Narcan, which officers are using to save lives all across the county in overdose incidents.

The Ephrata meeting was part of a series of town-hall forums presented by Lancaster County’s Anti-Heroin Task Force, formed by county mayors with a target goal of reducing heroin-related deaths.

The next forum is scheduled for June 7 at Columbia High School.