Dauphin County officials hold panel to address overdose spike

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — After a deadly week of overdoses in the Harrisburg area, officials are trying to raise awareness and save lives.

“It is just dangerous times right now,” Harrisburg Police Commissioner Thomas Carter said.

Carter said he has never seen this in his career.

“The people that we experienced this past weekend, the death was almost instant,” he said.

In just one week, Dauphin County took 29 overdose calls. Nine of them were deadly, mostly happening over the weekend.

On Thursday, Carter joined Dauphin County officials for a panel discussion called “Help in Harrisburg” to address the recent spike. Dauphin County Commissioner George Harwick, Dauphin County Director of Drug & Alcohol Services Kristin Varner, and Dauphin County Deputy Coroner Tommy Reinhard were all on the panel.

“It’s taken multiple doses to bring people back because that’s how strong the fentanyl and everything else is that they’re taking,” Carter said.

Police say early tests at the recent overdoses confirmed the presence of fentanyl and cocaine. They also believe at least five deaths are related to the same batch of drugs.

“If you’re getting it off the street, it could have fentanyl in it,” Dauphin County Drug & Alcohol Services director Kristin Varner said.

The panel focused on solutions, like how to make harm reduction measures like fentanyl test strips and Narcan more accessible.

“Fentanyl testing strips and Narcan are very important in helping someone remain alive until hey make that decision to get help,” Varner said.

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Healthcare professionals from UPMC also demonstrated how to use the life-saving medicine.

“Truly minutes matter especially with the Narcan administration,” Theresa Sellers, who oversees UPMC’s Center for Addiction Recovery, said.

Officials also shared resources for people struggling with addiction, like UPMC’s Mobile Recovery Unit, which travels to rural areas of the Commonwealth.

“Some people have obstacles to get to an office-based practice, so we take the practice to them,” Sellers said.

Dauphin County also has recovery specialists available 24/7.

“Certified recovery specialists are people that are in recovery are really there to eliminate that stigma, to eliminate that shame and let them know that they’ve made the next right step,” Varner said.

Officials said they hope their message can save lives, as overdoses spike and as other drugs, including an animal tranquilizer called xylazine or tranq, are increasingly showing up in street drugs.

“We’re asking you, please think about what you’re doing before doing it. This stuff is deadly,” Carter said. “If it is meant to knock out elephants and horses, I wouldn’t mess with it.”

Help In Harrisburg will premiere Friday, Sept. 15 at 7 p.m. and will also be available on the City of Harrisburg’s YouTube channel.

If you or someone you know needs help, you can reach a Dauphin County recovery specialist at any time by calling (717) 635-2254. UPMC’s Center for Addiction Recovery can be reached at (717) 782-4781, and the National Substance Abuse Helpline is 1-800-662-HELP(4357).

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