The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

The Danville News

February 11, 2014

Heroin, prescription pills drugs of choice in Montour County

— DANVILLE — Heroin and prescription pills are the drugs of choice in the area, according to area police officers.

Two years ago, it was marijuana and cocaine, according to Mahoning Township Police Chief Bob Blee Jr.

“Marijuana is making a comeback since it’s been legalized in other states and is getting more glamorized,” he said.

Methamphetamine is also being used and made in the area.

In Montour County last year, two women were charged with operating meth labs one of which was close to a Danville school.

Heroin is cheaper now, according to Blee.

Its purity is also a lot higher, said Mahoning Cpl. Chad Thomas, resulting in people getting hooked quicker than in the 1970s,

Township police are seeing heroin users’ range in age from 20 to 40.

“We’re making drug arrests,” said Danville Sgt.  William Wilt II, who agreed, along with Danville Police Chief Eric Gill, there is a rise in heroin and prescription drug abuse in the area.

“We’re trying to send a message that if you are buying or selling drugs in Montour County, you are going to be prosecuted,” County District Attorney Rebecca Warren said.

“Parents need to be aware that drug use can occur,” Gill said.

“Parents need to be aware of what their kids are into. There’s nothing wrong with being a nosey parent who needs to know who their kids are running with and what they’re doing,” Wilt said.

He said drug use affects all walks of life. “It’s not an isolated group. Pills and prescriptions are right in your bathroom in the medicine cabinet,” Wilt said.

Gill urged people to discard old and unused prescriptions during drug collection days held in Montour County.

“We made one meth lab arrest so far in the borough and there were precursors of another a couple of years ago,” Wilt said.

Gill agreed marijuana is beginning an upswing with other states promoting its legality.

“Synthetic marijuana or spice is also being used and affecting people really weird,” Wilt said.

“We probably see more spice in the court system than marijuana,” Warren said.

Montour County Chief Probation Officer Jim Miller has seen an increase in the use of synthetic drugs and particularly spice. “We’re getting a lot of positive results in our urine testing,” he said of people on probation.

“I believe synthetic marijuana is on the increase because of the high they get off it. It’s a quicker high, but it doesn’t last as long as marijuana,” he said.

“As far as harder drugs, heroin has always been here in the last seven to 10 years. We’re seeing an increase in meth use, which typically follows heroin,” said Miller, who has worked in the probation office for nearly 24 years.

”It’s worse than when I started because of the harder drugs,” he said.

Blee attributed many of the thefts, thefts of vehicles and burglaries to people “trying to steal money and to steal stuff to buy drugs.”

Members of the Northumberland-Montour Drug Task Force, Blee and Thomas said the township police force has investigated numerous cases of drug diversions since Geisinger Medical Center and nursing homes are located in the township. With drug diversion, someone steals or uses drugs meant for a patient.

“They keep a good watch on this and catch these people. In lots of other areas, they don’t report it,” Thomas said.

With Geisinger’s computer-generated system, he said these people “are going to get caught.”

Township investigators work with the state attorney general’s office in these cases because the hospital has to report drug diversions to the attorney general’s office, Blee said. “We work jointly with them with the charges co-signed by the police and the AG agent,” he said.

In the past two years, Thomas has charged registered nurses, nursing assistants, pharmacists and licensed practical nurses with diverting drugs intended for patients. Mostly RNs and LPNs are arrested, Thomas said.

“We have been getting a couple every month on average. For the ones arrested, there are just as many being investigated,” he said.

Township statistics show at least 30 drug diversion cases a year for the past two years.

Drug diverters are mostly after painkillers. “Maybe they hurt their back lifting a patient and were prescribed a painkiller and can’t get any more so they start stealing them,” Thomas said. “They build up a tolerance and can get hooked on 15 to 20 pills a day,” he said.

They have seen all ages, from their 20s to their 60s, divert drugs.

“As they go on with their use, they get more and more careless with their work in the way they do their charting and the way they perform on their job,” Thomas said.

“It’s a tough battle — all we can do is try to affect arrests and clean up our community,” he said. “You can suppress it in your area.”

Wilt, a member of the two-county drug task force along with Gill, said, “we can only keep it in tow and only do with what we have.”

He said he was glad public programs have been held on methamphetamine awareness. “God forbid if some kid would pick up a bottle with active ingredients,” he said.

Mahoning Township’s department was also called to numerous drug overdoses in the past year.

“We’re constantly on the watch for stuff,” Blee said. In one instance, a traffic stop led to three arrests for drug possession.

Police are constantly on the lookout for drugs on routine patrols and through their work with the drug task force. “It’s a big effort by everybody,” Thomas said.   

He said citizens should alert police of suspected drug abuse.

“The public is a big part of it in helping us and it makes our job easier,” Thomas said.

Email comments to kblackledge@thedanvillenews.com.

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