Dauphin County coroner’s report shows overdose deaths, homicides increase in 2020

Opioid Crisis

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — The Dauphin County Coroner’s Office released its 2020 annual report Thursday. In it, there are some trends with accidental deaths going the wrong direction.

The pandemic has caused businesses to shut down and many people feeling isolated at home.

“Isolation is the biggest enemy of a person in recovery,” said Steve Barndt, executive director of JFT Recovery and Veteran Support Services.

After a decline in 2019, drug deaths in Dauphin County rose to 122 in 2020, the majority of which were because of fentanyl.

“You tear away people’s basic support mechanisms and you’re going to have abuse,” said Coroner Graham Hetrick.

Barndt knows that firsthand.

“We made the decision early on that we weren’t going to close because we were seeing these people and especially people coming out of treatment with 30 days, 60 days clean,” Barndt said.

One woman in a meeting shared she was going to use.

“The difference is at the meeting we had people that could go up and talk to her afterwards and she didn’t just walk out,” Barndt said. “With Zoom and some of these other things, you turn off the phone and the computer, you’re sitting in that room by yourself.”

Barndt says overdoses are happening more often because of the pandemic. Hetrick says it’s not the only reason.

“Drug deaths will continue to go up because we haven’t addressed addiction,” Hetrick said. “And it’s a bigger problem. It’s a bigger problem than the COVID.”

There were 410 deaths related to COVID-19 in Dauphin County. 56% were people in long-term care facilities.

Homicides also went up in 2020, with 30 in total compared to 25 in 2019.

“We’re going back to where it was almost in the 90s. When I took over we’d get up to about 35 or 40 a year,” Hetrick said.

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