State agencies report significant uptick in overdose deaths during the pandemic

Opioid Crisis

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — The coronavirus pandemic has been front and center in Pennsylvania, but the opioid epidemic has never gone away and COVID-19 has only made it worse.

 “It continues to impact people’s suffering with the disease of addiction,” said Ray Barishansky, Deputy Secretary of Health Preparedness and Community Protection at the Department of Health.

Since 2018, several state agencies have been fighting the opioid crisis through the Opioid Command Center and were seeing progress, until 2020.

“As we continue to evaluate 2020 overdose trends, we’re seeing a significant uptick in fatal overdoses through data reported to the Department of Health,” Barishansky said.

In 2020, more than 4,800 overdose deaths have been reported so far. The death toll is expected to climb since death records are often delayed by several months.

Lebanon County is one of four Pennsylvania counties that saw the most significant increases in overdoses last year.

Officials are encouraging everyone to carry naloxone to help reverse the effects of an overdose. Just last month, the Opioid Command Center launched the Statewide Naloxone Request Portal.

“It really allows organizations that come into contact with individuals who may be at additional high risk,” said Ellen DiDomenico, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Drug and Alcohol.

One of the biggest battles continues to be breaking the stigma associated with substance abuse.

“Really chipping away at the stigma of the disease is a huge factor we believe in helping to get those numbers turned around again so we can get people to access to the services that they need,” said Jen Smith, Secretary of the Department of Drug and Alcohol.

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