Residents in their 20s died at an unusually high rate, report says

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Despite a midsummer spike in heroin overdoses in 2015, people in Lebanon County died from drugs at only half the statewide rate, according to a recently released report.

“Hopefully it’s because we’re hitting the drug issue head-on,” said Lebanon County Coroner Jeffrey Yocum.

There were 20 drug deaths in Lebanon County last year, according to the report by the Pennsylvania State Coroners Association. By contrast, there have only been five overdose deaths in Lebanon County so far this year, said Jim Donmoyer, director of the Lebanon County Commission on Drug and Alcohol Abuse.

However, the report was bad news for Pennsylvania as a whole, as drug deaths increased statewide by 30 percent over 2014. In some ways, Lebanon County mirrored statewide trends. In both the county and the state:

  • Most drug deaths occurred among people who are single and male
  • Heroin or legal opiates were involved in a majority of deaths
  • Many deaths involved a combination of prescription and illegal drugs

However, Lebanon County stood out in the age of its fatalities. Half of the counties drug deaths involved people in their 20s, compared to just 21 percent statewide.

Every drug death in Lebanon County at least involved heroin or other opiates last year, Donmoyer said.

There were six drug deaths in the county last July, according to the report, a sudden increase that lead to a forum on heroin use sponsored by the Lebanon Daily News and the creation of the Lebanon County Heroin Task Force in September. There has been no similar spike since, Donmoyer said.

He credits the recent decline in overdose deaths to three things: an increase in state money to fight the heroin epidemic, outreach efforts by the heroin task force, and the increased use of naloxone to save overdose victims.

“Are we still seeing people in the emergency room for overdoses? Yes. Are they dying at the same rate that they were? No,” he said.

Statewide, drug deaths were most likely to occur on weekends and between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., according to the coroner’s report.

Lebanon County’s rate of 14.6 drug deaths per 100,000 people was similar to most of the counties surrounding it. Dauphin County had a much higher rate of 30 deaths per 100,000 people. Urban areas generally had higher rates of drug deaths than rural areas throughout the state.

Whether or not Lebanon County’s rate continues to decline depends on factors no prevention initiative can completely control, such as a bad batch of heroin finding its way into the county, Donmoyer said.

“We’re really at the mercy of the people using this stuff,” he said. “It just comes down to people’s choice in this matter. That’s the helpless part.”

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