The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

July 24, 2013

String of local drug overdoses prompts many to seek treatment

By Francis Scarcella
The Daily Item

— SUNBURY — At least 70 people have sought drug treatment assistance for themselves or loved ones in the past 45 days as Northumberland County may be facing a potential outbreak in overdoses.

“It’s horrific and people don’t realize how bad it really is,” Glenda Bonetti, Northumberland County drug and alcohol administrator, said Tuesday. “It has gotten worse every year.”

County officials are worried after learning of at least five drug overdoses in recent months.

City police have yet to say what caused the death of J. Craig Landis, 33, of Selinsgrove, whose body was discovered Sunday morning in the backyard of a home on South Front Street in Sunbury. They did say his death was suspicious.

Bonetti, who has been working with addicts for 17 years, said it’s not only a bad batch of heroin that is the problem, but that those who are using are uneducated about the consequences of shooting up.

“There are really no programs out there in the schools,” she said. “When I was younger, heroin was considered the dirty drug. We are not just seeing heroin users, but we are seeing different drugs people are addicted to.”

Since July 1, Bonetti’s office has received 20 referrals and, in the past 45 days, 70 — which is a huge increase in numbers, she said.

While police had said a bad batch of heroin was in the Valley, reported by “people on the street,” Bonetti said it’s the way dealers are manipulating it.

“Users get hooked on pure heroin and then they get heroin that is cut down,” she said. “Once they get a cut-down version, their bodies can’t handle it.”

Heroin is costing some Valley addicts more than $300 a day, she said.

“We see users come in with a 30-bag-a-day habit,” she said. “They are shooting it all in a day.”

The price is astronomical for addicts to support a daily habit. Bonetti said users are stealing from friends and family to get the cash or in some cases, resorting to prostitution.

“You would be shocked at what is going on outside,” she said of Sunbury. “People are not realizing this is a problem and it’s a lot bigger than people think. A lot of times we see users who have stolen money from people they know, but charges are never put on them because they want those people to just get help.

“The drug courts work because those are people who have been caught either stealing or selling and are sitting on state prison’s front door.”

Addicts who are sent to White Deer Run treatment center, in Allenwood, usually don’t leave cured, Bonetti said.

“The success rate is 7 percent,” she said. “These are people who have yet to be caught in any illegal acts, so they are still not getting that push to get cured.”

According to the state Department of Health, in 2010, the most recent numbers the state has posted, Northumberland County had 13 drug-related deaths. Snyder had three, Union one and Montour reported none.

Numbers for 2011 through 2013 have not been released.

Sunbury Police Chief Steve Mazzeo said he has seen at least two per year in the city alone.