The community of Lycoming County is no stranger to the impacts of drug addiction. As national data shows a record amount of Fentanyl ravaging neighborhoods and families across the country, it’s effects throughout NorthCentral, Pa., have been evident since 2019.
“Unfortunately the trend is that it’s up everywhere,” said Shea Madden, Executive Director West Branch Drug & Alcohol Abuse Commission. “Rates are skyrocketing.”
But in Lycoming County, while Fentynal has surpassed heroin in overdose rates, Madden is seeing an increase in methamphetamine use as well.
Throughout the rest of the country, meth usage spiked between 2015 and 2019, it did not rise in Lycoming County until recently.
“We have kind of gone the opposite of that trend,” Madden said.
In contrast to an increase in overdose numbers across the country, Lycoming County’s overdose death rates were low in 2021, according to Coroner Charles Kiessling Jr.
“So far this year we have investigated 20 drug deaths, which is significantly less than 2020,” Kiessling said. “Most of the deaths include Fentanyl, Cocaine, Methamphetamine, Methadone, Heroin in combination with prescription drugs.”
Overdose deaths are rarely tied to a single drug, according to Kiessling. Mixing drugs, or lacing various drugs together is a common practice both for addicts and dealers.
“In some of the cases, it is just Fentanyl or other single agents in lethal levels that cause the death,” he said. “Most of the deaths are due to Fentanyl or a combination with other illicit and prescription drugs.”
Even with lower rates of deaths, Madden said, “There are not less people using drugs.”
Rise in Meth use
Madden has over 20 years of experience working in the world of addiction and has seen a continual increase in overdoses and individuals struggling with addiction over the years.
While Fentynal took Lycoming County by storm in 2019 and 2020, Madden said in 2021 she is seeing an increase of Methamphetamine use.
“Meth is everywhere now,” Madden said. “It’s cheap and it’s easy to put together.”
Fentynal still is the most dangerous, however both drugs elicit lasting effects in the users.
While Fentynal, an opioid, will induce a lethargic almost zombie-like state in it’s users, methamphetamine will produce the opposite effect, making the individual jittery, with a thinning body, intense scratching and paranoia.
Madden added that in some cases individuals are mixing Fentanyl and meth together.
It’s unclear why 2021’s overdose deaths are so low, Madden said, but she added that this doesn’t mean the county is on a downward trend for drug addiction.
Perhaps one of the best local advances in the battle against addiction is the warm handoff program. This process involves members of area emergency departments connecting overdose victims or addicts to a member of the West Branch team for immediate help.
In 2021, West Branch also began a warm handoff program with area EMS personnel to connect with the people who may overdose but then choose not to go to the hospital.
West Branch has processed over 2,000 cases from warm handoffs over the years.
Madden and her team also hold monthly Narcan events on the last Tuesday of each month where they hand out free Narcan kits which can be used to stop an overdose in progress.
“We are still working,” she said. “We’ve never stopped during the pandemic.”