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There is some hope ... in the distance ... in fight vs. opioids: Editorial

Posted 2/28/18

In our edition from just more than one year ago, on Feb. 22, 2017, we profiled one of Middletown’s fine part-time police officers, Hyung Kim, after he saved a borough resident’s life …

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There is some hope ... in the distance ... in fight vs. opioids: Editorial

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In our edition from just more than one year ago, on Feb. 22, 2017, we profiled one of Middletown’s fine part-time police officers, Hyung Kim, after he saved a borough resident’s life using the anti-opioid drug Narcan.

We reported then that there had been at least two other times Narcan was used to save a life by Middletown police. In Lower Swatara Township, it had been used three times.

Much to our dismay, those numbers seem quaint now.

The crisis continues to grow, and quickly.

We still report on the uses of Narcan to save lives, but they no longer warrant front-page stories. In last week’s edition, our Middletown police roundup reported on a local resident who needed four — yes, four — doses of Narcan to survive an OD. A physician at Penn State told police that the heroin was probably laced with another substance, based on the amount of Narcan that was needed to revive him.

We also reported in our last edition about a panel discussion on the opioid crisis that was held at Penn State Harrisburg on Thursday, Feb. 15.

The consensus is that there are signs of progress in combating the epidemic, but the crisis will likely get a lot worse before it gets better.

Jim Lingg, a paramedic shift supervisor with Life Lion, struck an ominous chord.

“People ask me, ‘Do you think it’s slowing down?’ No. We haven’t even seen the tip of the iceberg yet. There’s no doubt in my mind,” he said. “It will peak and it will slow down, but, man, the damage that is left as a result of this — it’s crazy.”

He told stories of reviving the same person with Narcan two times, even three, on the same shift. He had to leave a position he had as a deputy coroner for Lancaster County in May because he couldn’t take it anymore.

Wendy Loranzo’s daughter Elizabeth died from an overdose on March 19, 2017, in Londonderry Township, she said she knew little about heroin and nothing about fentanyl, the super-powerful substance that was responsible for Elizabeth’s death.

“I said, ‘I don’t even know what fentanyl is. Can you spell that?’” Loranzo, now an anti-drug advocate, said during the panel discussion.

The deaths keep adding up. Dauphin County recorded 102 overdose deaths in 2017, up from 85 in 2016 and 71 in 2015. There are more drug deaths than deaths from car crashes.

The power of addiction is so strong. It knows no class, education level or job status. It tears lives apart, ending some and leaving devastation in its wake.

Unfortunately for panelists at the PSU event, the signs of progress will take time. Doctors are not prescribing opioids to relieve pain as routinely and automatically as they used to, said Dr. Lawrence Kass, an emergency room physician at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Education on the risks of prescribing opioids is becoming part of the requirements for a doctor to be licensed, he said.

Those effects could take years.

In January, Dauphin County commissioners filed a lawsuit against 11 drug manufacturers and three doctors they say “ignored the addictive and debilitating effect of opioids and aggressively marketed the painkillers to make billions in profit.”

From June 2016 to the end of July 2017, Dauphin County spent $19.6 million to help 2,859 people suffering from addiction, according to a press release. That marked an 860 percent increase in treatment dollars and more than 400 percent increase in those needing help from 2012-13.

The Dauphin County coroner’s office added three new positions in the 2018 budget because of the spike in drug deaths.

So even if you are not affected directly by addiction, it’s hitting you in the pocketbook.

The best way to fight this epidemic is education. Don’t become addicted in the first place. That’s easy to say when these drugs are being prescribed initially for pain in many cases, leading to the addiction. That’s where better education of doctors comes in.

The best-case scenario, of course, is a highly effective, non-addictive pain medication.

Until one is created, people will continue to die, ravaged by the cold-blooded monster of addiction.