Wake up call

By on March 11, 2015

Lititz has ‘a real problem’

If a packed community forum on drug abuse didn’t jolt “America’s Coolest Small Town” with a reality check, a fatal overdose in a Turkey Hill bathroom should.

Police were called to the East Newport Road convenience store March 5 at 1:55 a.m. for an unresponsive male. The county’s 911 call center officially logged the incident as a “cardiac arrest class 1,” but Northern Lancaster County Regional Police Chief Dave Steffen confirmed, “We are investigating a drug overdose.”

And that’s about all he could say.

The name of the victim and details of the incident will not be released by the police department until its investigation, including a toxicology report, is complete. Steffen said additional information on the cause of death will have to come from the county coroner, Dr. Stephen Diamantoni, who was not available for comment prior to Record Express press time.

Steffen confirmed that this was the first overdose call for his department in 2015. Last year, Regional documented 10 ODs, but those numbers do not indicate which drug was involved or if the incident was fatal.

Frank Kenavan, president of the Warwick Community Ambulance Association, said his organization responded to 42 drug overdoses last year, but due to HIPAA (the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), details of those incidents are not available to the public. The goal of HIPAA is to protect the privacy of individually identifiable health information, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Lancaster County-Wide Communications year end report for 2014 – which documents police, fire and ambulance activity throughout the county – identifies 1,561 dispatches for overdoses or poisonings last year.

Two weeks ago, Action for Substance Abuse Prevention (ASAP), a newly-formed group of concerned citizens, hosted a community forum at the Warwick Middle School. Two hundred people attended and learned, for example, that 34,000 teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 will try heroin for the first time this year, according to information provided by the Byrnes Education Center. That was just one stat for one drug, and that’s just in Central Pennsylvania.

The numbers alarmed many in that audience, but actual close-to-home incidents, such as last week’s tragic end for a young man in a public bathroom, is a real reminder that this problem is not going away quietly.

“As a community member and fire chief for 20 years, we’re seeing this more often,” said Ron Oettel, who was on the scene of last week’s overdose. “It’s a real problem.”

Steffen emphasized that the current drug culture is a multi-disciplinary dilemma that will require a multi-disciplinary solution. That means everyone from police to educators to concerned residents will have to get involved, and he hopes ASAP has gotten the ball rolling in right direction.

“This is not a criminal justice problem,” he said. “It’s a social problem.”

Stephen Seeber is the associate editor of the Record Express. He welcomes reader feedback at sseeber.eph@lnpnews.com or 721-4423. 

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