The ongoing cycle of fighting the scourge of drugs rages on in Pennsylvania. The perpetual battle is marked some with victories, and defeats. If we’ve learned anything over the four decades it’s been a national priority, it is that accentuating the positives is imperative.
Good news: State officials reported drug overdose deaths dropped by 18 percent in 2018, from 5,456 to 4,492.
Bad news: Fatal overdose deaths from cocaine and methamphetamine are on the rise.
“This is a good piece of news in our ongoing fight; however, new challenges, including the increase of overdoses from other drugs in the past few weeks and months, mean that our work must continue to address the devastating effects of substance use disorder,” Gov. Tom Wolf said, acknowledging work remains to be done. “You don’t see a ‘Mission Accomplished’ sign up here.”
Jennifer Smith, secretary of the state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, said the increase in those stimulants along with fentanyl has led to an increase in overdoses in some portions of the state.
Northumberland and Montour counties were on record pace for overdose deaths through the first third of the year. Montour County Coroner Scott Lynn reported 10 confirmed fatal overdoses through April with another dozen cases pending toxicology results. His counterpart in Northumberland County, James Kelley, had 22 confirmed deaths through April with two cases pending testing.
Coming on the heels of the state news regarding deaths, federal health officials announced prescriptions for naloxone, an overdose antidote, have soared, perhaps a reason the death numbers have declined across the nation.
In 2018, 557,000 naloxone prescriptions were dispensed by U.S. pharmacies, more than double the 271,000 handed out the year before. “One could only hope that this extraordinary increase in prescribing of naloxone is contributing to that stabilization or even decline of the crisis,” said Katherine Keyes, a Columbia University drug abuse expert.
That begs the question: Is the epidemic getting better, or are we simply saving more addicts with naloxone?
State Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said naloxone has saved “thousands and thousands” of lives in Pennsylvania. The Department of Health will hold a pair of naloxone giveaway days in September. During a similar event held in December, more than 7,000 naloxone kits were distributed statewide and all four Valley counties released their allotment within hours. The upcoming events will be held Sept. 18 and Sept. 25 at health centers across the state.
The hope is to get these addicts the help they need before it’s too late. “It’s impossible to get them into treatment if they are dead,” Levine said.
The fight will continue. Too many people have invested too much to back off now. The state’s drug-monitoring is working. The antidote is working. The small victories are adding up.
NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher and top newsroom executives. Today’s was written by Managing Editor Bill Bowman.