Lancaster County saw 400 percent increase in drug overdoses deaths in 2017, coroner says

The York County Multijurisdictional Drug Enforcement Unit seized 21 grams of methamphetamine, 121 narcotic pills and four handguns from a York County main and cleaning business Nov. 29.
The York County Multijurisdictional Drug Enforcement Unit seized 21 grams of methamphetamine, 121 narcotic pills and four handguns from a York County main and cleaning business Nov. 29.

The Lancaster County Coroner’s Office saw a 400 percent increase in overdose deaths in 2017 compared to 2016, according to a coroner’s office Facebook post.

Five people died because of overdoses in 2016, and 25 people have been confirmed to have died of overdoses in 2017 in Lancaster County, the coroner’s office said.

Several cases are still awaiting toxicology reports, so that number could increase, according to the coroner’s office.

Eighteen of the overdose deaths in 2017 involved fentanyl, an extremely potent synthetic opioid.

Fentanyl is almost 50 times stronger than heroin, York County Multijurisdictional Drug Enforcement Unit Commander Marvin Brown said.

Lancaster County Sheriff Barry Faile said his office has seen the uptick in overdose deaths.

“We’re just trying to do everything we can to prevent it,” he said. “We’re certainly not going to arrest our way out of this problem. This is a problem nationwide.”

Faile said the newly instituted adult drug court allows drug users to complete treatment programs instead of jail time.

“It’s just getting people the help they need,” Faile said.

Faile said the sheriff’s office works to ensure first responders who may come into contact with fentanyl have gloves and masks.

Faile said the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office is working to train all officers to use Narcan, a medication used to reverse the effects of opioid overdoses. He hopes every uniformed officer will be equipped with Narcan by the first quarter of the new year.

“We’re doing everything we can to address it,” Faile said. “We just want to encourage our citizens, when they know something’s going on, to give us a call so we can work on it.”

In York County

There have been 46 confirmed drug overdose deaths in York County in 2017, according to the York County Coroner's Office.

There are between five and 10 toxicology reports still underway, the coroner’s office said.

Tega Cay Police Chief Steve Parker said York County law enforcement and detention center officials have used Narcan to reverse overdoses 38 times in 2017. Emergency medical personnel typically administer Narcan if they’re on the scene before law enforcement officers, making that number likely even higher, Parker said.

York County deputy coroner Brittany Keane said there were 50 overdose deaths in the county in 2016.

This has been a steady increase from 39 overdose deaths in 2015 and 29 overdose deaths in 2014, Keane said.

York County leaders are hosting a summit to raise awareness of opioid use Jan. 25, Brown said.

Brown said educating the public, as well as doctors and dentists prescribing opioids, about the dangers and working to help addicts get treatment instead of jail time are ways to curb the rash of deaths.

“If we can solve the problem, I’d rather solve their problem than put them in jail,” he said.

Brown said fentanyl and carfentanil, a synthetic opioid almost 100 times as potent as fentanyl, are extremely dangerous for users and law enforcement officials alike.

Fentanyl and carfentanil are cheaper to produce than other opioids, Brown said. Dealers may mix the cheaper, but deadlier synthetic drugs with oxycodone or heroin to make a bigger profit, he said.

He said he hopes working closely with lawmakers and state leaders will help “beef up” laws around drug abuse, such as adding a manslaughter penalty for drug dealers who sell to clients who later overdose and die.

In Chester County

The Chester County Coroner’s Office has seen an increase in overdose deaths since 2016 as well, Deputy Coroner Stephanie Bishop said.

Chester County saw one overdose death in 2016 and saw six in 2017, Bishop said.

Brown said he’s been in law enforcement for almost 42 years, and drug abuse has increased drastically.

“It’s worse now than I’ve ever seen it,” he said.

Hannah Smoot: 803-329-4068