Wayne County officials brought their concerns about the local heroin epidemic to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, at a meeting held at the Paupack Township offices, October 19.

WAYNE COUNTY  - Wayne County officials brought their concerns about the local heroin epidemic to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, at a meeting held at the Paupack Township offices, October 19.

While mentioning what his office is doing to combat the drug epidemic, he stated that he was touring the counties to listen to local concerns.

He met with Pike County officials earlier that afternoon.

Among those attending the roundtable discussion in Wayne County were representatives from the Board of Commissioners, District Attorney’s Office, Wayne County Heroin Prevention Task Force, Wayne County Drug & Alcohol Commission, Juvenile Probation, and Honesdale Police Department.

The Office of the  Attorney General (OAG) announced September 19 that they are seeking to hold the pharmaceutical companies accountable for the aggressive marketing and distribution of opiate pain killers, claiming medications were non-addictive. Instead, pain killers have led to massive addiction problems and have been known to be a gateway to even more abusive drugs such as heroin. Pennsylvania is one of 41 states investigating the business practices of the drug manufacturers responsible for distributing nearly 90% of the opioids in the U.S.

Shapiro told the local officials that it was important to be able to quantify the costs the drug epidemic is having locally, to assist with the state’s case.

The OAG cites statistics that Pennsylvania that 4,642 fatal drug overdoses in 2016, a 37% increase over 2015. On average, 13 Pennsylvanians die every day from overdoes. Eighty percent of persons suffering from heroin addiction began by abusing perception drugs.

He and Bill Kelly- the Senior Agent in the OAG, who accompanied Shapiro - commended Wayne County for organizing a drug court, which focuses on treatment and supervision for non-violent drug offenders.

District Attorney Janine Edwards said that the Wayne County Drug Court started in July, one of three in the northeast section of the state (joining Lackawanna and Wyoming counties). She said that the court has been highly successful.

“When we talk about treatment being the answer, I think drug court is part of that piece,” Edwards said. “In my opinion, it’s the first step towards treatment in many scenarios.”

Local statistics were cited for the AG, which noted that 10 years ago, 16% listed heroin as their primary source of substance abuse, of those who were being arrested. In the last four years, 33% to 44% list heroin. Today, heroin is surpassing alcohol as the primary substance abuse.

The AG was also advised that local law enforcement need more personnel to be able to adequately address drug crimes.

Commissioner Wendell Kay noted that leading cause of Wayne County Children & Youth, in placing children outside the home, is parental addiction.

Kay also noted that 80% of the inmates in Wayne County Correctional Facility have a substance abuse problem; 60% of the inmates are receiving mental health treatment. A significant number of the inmates have both issues.

Commissioner Kay thanked the AG for the level of commitment the OAG has shown to rural counties, by visiting Wayne County. Shapiro stated that a lot of rural counties are “forgotten” in Harrisburg, and he is focused on bringing them help.

Shapiro said that he is impressed with the level of collaboration he has witnessed among agencies on the local level, in the counties he visited that day in the Poconos. He said this is not seen everywhere. By going out on the field, he stated that he can gain so much more insight that staying behind a desk.

After the meeting, Commissioner Kay commented that when he came to the board about nine years ago, he was astonished to hear that heroin was the “drug of choice” in Wayne County, rather than alcohol. The problem, although daunting, is being addressed with an “an all hands on deck” approach in Wayne County, he said.