Heroin Oxy Plague in York County
By Sen. Scott Wagner
This column concerns a very serious crisis that is plaguing our communities in Pennsylvania.
The crisis I am referring to is the prescription drug and heroin crisis.
In the summer of 2014 one of my Senate colleagues, Senator Gene Yaw from Lycoming County in Northern Pennsylvania who serves as Board Chairman for The Center for Rural Pennsylvania, announced to our Senate caucus that The Center was holding hearings around the state to highlight the heroin crisis.
The Center for Rural PA has held nine public hearings across Pennsylvania over the last two years.
I attended and participated in a hearing held in Reading on the heroin crisis in June of 2014.
I invited David Sunday – senior deputy prosecutor from the York County District Attorney’s office to attend the hearing with me.
What I learned that day was alarming. I learned that Baltimore is the heroin capital of the United States.
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York County is approximately 50 miles north of Baltimore – a short drive up Interstate 83. The majority of my Senate district borders the Maryland line.
While driving back to York from the hearing in Reading, Dave Sunday continued to educate me on just how large the heroin problem really is.
Dave Sunday discussed the interest that he and York County Coroner Pam Gay had in forming a Heroin Task Force in response to the heroin crisis in York County.
In the initial stages of the formation of the task force we received alarming York County drug death statistics from Pam Gay.
As a result of a combined effort the York County Heroin Task Force was co-founded by Senior Deputy Prosecutor Dave Sunday from the York County District Attorney’s office and York County Coroner Pam Gay in July 2014.
The mission of the York County Heroin Task Force is to form a partnership of community, medical and government agencies dedicated to reducing the abuse of heroin in our communities.
Click here to see the York County Heroin Task Force website –
I have personally known for years that prescription drug abuse was growing at an alarming rate.
As an employer, I noticed employees who experienced sprain or strain injuries being prescribed highly addictive pain killers.
The injured employees were treated at medical facilities and in many instances were given 30 day prescriptions for pain killers such as Vicodin or Oxycodone – both highly addictive drugs.
Approximately four years ago I had an informational piece printed regarding workers compensation system reforms that were needed in Pennsylvania – I sent the printed material to each and every Pennsylvania State House and Senate member to highlight changes that needed to take place within the workers compensation system, specifically the number of prescription drug pills that could be dispensed to an injured worker.
Surprisingly, only one House member contacted me to discuss ideas that I had.
I always knew that 30 day prescriptions to painkillers led to addiction, the cost to Pennsylvania businesses via the cost of the drugs, addiction treatment costs, lost work time, and absenteeism, to name a few are staggering.
In my opinion, prescription drug addiction has to easily be costing Pennsylvania businesses between $5 billion – $10billion per year.
Statistics show that some people who become addicted to prescription drugs move on to heroin due to the lower cost and availability.
The prescription drug problem is a national epidemic.
The prescription drug industry is a multi-billion dollar industry – Drug companies pay cash inducements to doctors as an incentive to promote their drugs.
There are many articles on the internet that validate the size of the prescription drug industry and cash paid to doctors.
Many young teenagers have experimented at parties where a large bowl is passed around containing hundreds of various prescription drug pills obtained from family medicine cabinets – many teenagers become addicted to prescription drugs and due to the cost and availability they move on to heroin and become addicted.
I met with a group of York County school administrators in September of 2014 and I told them of my involvement in the Heroin Task Force and what I had learned. I stated that drugs were available in their schools and that a fifty dollar bill could be given to most children in their school and they could go into the school and purchase heroin or prescription drugs.
I clearly remember the reaction from some of the school administrators. They were very upset with me for making these statements and they were sure that there were no drug issues in their schools.
During several conversations Dave Sunday stated to me that there are drug dealers standing on street corners or in alleys grossing $10,000 per week selling drugs.
The drug dealers have sophisticated operations and as a result drugs are everywhere – in the cities, at the malls, on street corners, convenience stores, in schools, at parties and at many places of employment.
This summer will be two years ago that the York County Heroin Task Force was formed.
We have all learned so much about the prescription drug and heroin crisis.
One of our Task Force members, Charlene Sciaretta, shared the story of her son Danny who was taken by heroin.
Click here to view a video by Charlene about her son –
Charlene Sciaretta’s message is very clear.
Heroin does not discriminate.
Heroin does not know if you are black or white, rich or poor, young or old.
Heroin doesn’t care if you want to stop, if you’re clean and sober, rebuilding your life or have a family to take care of.
Heroin will eat you alive until you have nothing left, and then it still wants more.
Heroin is the type of drug that if you try just one time, you may be an addict forever.
Coroner Pam Gay continues to report death statistics monthly – the numbers are alarming.
We have seen an increase in heroin and prescription drug-related deaths since 2013, with a 3.5x increase in heroin-related deaths in just one year.
Below is a graph showing the increase in heroin-related deaths in York County from the 2013 – 2014 – 2015 years.
The goal of the York County Heroin Task Force is to reduce drug-related deaths and crime in our communities through public education, advocacy, media, law enforcement and legislation.
The Task Force is educating our citizens on the prevalence of the heroin problem, the signs and symptoms of addiction and the resources available.
Members of the Heroin Task Force and the York County Coroner’s Office have presented school and community heroin awareness programs approximately 70 times since July 2014 to church groups, middle and high schools (public and parochial), rotaries, lions clubs, police departments, fire departments, mayors groups, senior groups, township managers groups, borough supervisor groups, physicians, nurses and many more entities.
Since its formation, the Heroin Task Force has many notable accomplishments.
Members of the Heroin Task Force, in particular the District Attorney’s Office, were instrumental in obtaining Narcan / Naxolone for our local law enforcement in every police jurisdiction and the Pennsylvania State Police. Since implementing the use of Narcan by York County Law Enforcement in April 2015 it has resulted in saving 99 lives by Law Enforcement personnel last year. Unfortunately not everyone who is saved by Narcan is grateful someone just saved their life – in many cases they can not wait to get their next dose of heroin.
It has partnered with the Byrnes Education Center to bring heroin and prescription drug education into middle schools and high schools. The Program is called, “Heroin: The Wake-up Call.” It is being funded by grant money. The program has been presented multiple times since January in York County and others.
The Task Force has and implemented use of prescription drug drop boxes in every York County Police Department and began a mobile program in Delta, PA in 2014 – in 2015, 4,460 pounds or 2.3 tons of prescription drugs were turned into the drop boxes and disposed of.
It has made recommendations to York-Adams Drug and Alcohol regarding treatment needs in 2014-15. As a result, additional funding obtained and detox/rehab and medication assisted treatment capacity has increased and is continuing to increase.
Members of the Heroin Task Force participated in several days of programming over a week-long prescription drug and heroin-related educational series that Central York High School offered to its students in April 2016, the first such series offered by any school in York County.
For a long time many people wanted to deny that their community, friend, child, spouse, co-worker, or family member was addicted to either prescription drugs or heroin.
Times have changed. People are dying in record numbers. Crime is up. Drug treatment facilities are overflowing with people that are addicted and need treatment.
The reality contains really bad news. People who are addicted to heroin only stand a 20 percent success rate of overcoming their addiction.
If you go to Google and search “prescription drug crisis America – heroin crisis – heroin needles in parking lots” story after story pops up.
I applaud Senior Deputy Prosecutor Dave Sunday, Coroner Pam Gay, and all the members of the York County Heroin Task Force for their involvement and participation to educate everyone in our community to address the prescription drug and heroin crisis.
I encourage you to learn more by visiting the York County Heroin Task Force website and Facebook page to see how you can get involved and what you need to do to help.
Click here to visit the Heroin Task Force website.
Sen. Wagner represents the 28th District in the Pennsylvania Senate.
Heroin Oxy Plague In York County