SHIPPENSBURG – A panel of experts provided a sobering look at Cumberland County’s drug problem during a public forum co-hosted by state Rep. Mark Keller (R-Perry/Cumberland) and U.S. Congressman Lou Barletta (R-11) at Shippensburg University Wednesday evening.
The two lawmakers brought together health care professionals and law enforcement officials to discuss the extent of the drug crisis and efforts underway to resolve it on the federal, state and local levels. The event was attended by more than 150 people.
Coroner Charles Hall said drug overdose deaths rose by 60 percent last year in Cumberland County, from 41 in 2015 to 66 in 2016. Twenty-nine of the fatalities were the result of heroin abuse.
“This is a multi-faceted problem and it is going to take multi-faceted answers,” said Hall.
Cumberland County District Attorney Dave Freed said the number of drug-related cases handled by his office has exploded in recent years. He cited Mexico as the source of the heroin being brought into the county by dealers from Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City.
“When big-city dealers come here to set up shop, we knew it had reached a new level,” said Freed. “Justice in most of these cases is trying to treat these people who are in the throes of addiction.”
Freed pointed to new laws enacted by the Pennsylvania General Assembly as effective tools in addressing the state’s heroin and opioid epidemic. Those measures include the creation of a database designed to prevent “doctor shopping” by addicts and legal immunity for persons who report an overdose to authorities.
“The Legislature has been ahead on this issue,” Freed said.
“It is so encouraging to hear that legislation we enacted is being used and is working,” Keller observed. “But we need to do more, and we are doing more.”
According to the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, there 3,500 drug-related deaths in Pennsylvania last year. Another 2,400 addicts were saved by first responders who administered naloxone, a medication that reverses the effects of an overdose.
“Education is key. Prevention is key,’ said Kenneth Martz, special assistant to the acting secretary of the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. “Drug addiction is 100 percent preventable.”
Several panel members said raising public awareness about the extent of Pennsylvania drug problem is also important and they were pleased by the large turnout for the forum.
“We need your help. We need everyone’s help,” Dr. Carrie Delone of Holy Spirit Medical Group told the crowd. “This is not just a legislative fix or a health care fix; we need everyone working together.”
“It is going to take all of us and the first step is bringing awareness,” said Barletta.
Other panel members included Fred Scott, Shippensburg chief of police; and Kristin Varner, The RASE Project training and advocacy director.
Representative Mark Keller
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Andy Briggs