such as vehicles coming and going from a house at all hours of the night or other suspicious circumstances must report it. “Speaking up is the most important thing you can do,” Salavantis said. “I know people are scared to provide their name. If they want to remain anonymous, they can.”
Salavantis added that some people are confronting drug dealers themselves and she stressed that this is not safe. “I urge everybody not to approach these people, but to provide the information to us and we will investigate,” she said.
Increase in Overdoses
Salavantis took control of the Luzerne County Drug Task Force recently and has been working closely with area police departments, like Wright Township’s, to stop overdoses and eliminate fatalities. In the past four months, Salavantis and the task force have taken 300 grams of heroin off the street.
In Luzerne County, there were 141 deaths from overdoses in 2016, double the number from 2014. With the statistics that are in for this year, not yet adding the summer months where drug overdoses are most prevalent, Salavantis fears that the 2017 number will be even higher.
“We’re seeing a lot of addition, the opioid epidemic,” she related. “Many people from all walks of life are addicted to these drugs.”
Engler said exactly the same, “It’s all over the place. It’s people of all walks of life –attorneys, doctors. It’s not just teenagers.” The youngest to overdose Engler has seen was a 13-year-old who took prescription pills. The age, gender, and status of other users has varied greatly from there.
The Wright Township Police Department has gotten 24 calls for non-fatal overdoses in the past five years, with more of those calls coming in the past few years. While the drug user in each case survived because of rapid responses from police and EMS workers, one incident in January of this year resulted in a fatality.
Fairview Township’s statistics are about the same, with about two dozen overdose calls in the past five years and the calls more prevalent in recent years. Since the beginning of this year, in addition to the fatality, Wright Township Police handled four other overdose calls –three for heroin use and one for prescription pills.
The cause for the increase in overdoses, Salavantis said, is the type of drugs being circulated. For example, many of the cases involved the drug fentanyl, typically used in a patch to alleviate pain for cancer patients.
Drug dealers are mixing this in heroin and advertising their product as the “next big high,” the district attorney explained. But, fentanyl can be 50 times stronger than heroin and an amount the size of three grains of sugar can be lethal to an adult.
Many dangerous drugs are making their way into the United States and into Pennsylvania, Salavantis continued. “There’s a lot of scary things going on,” she said. “We need communication. You can’t just hide from it. Families need to be discussing this. It’s in every school district. We need to start working together as a community.”
Mountaintop is not immune to these types of drugs either. “Heroin is here on the mountain,” Engler commented. Dealers travel Route 309, which connects Hazleton and Wilkes-Barre, and are often caught in traffic stops by Wright Township Police.
Engler spoke of Wright Township being active in the Luzerne County Drug Task Force. “We give Stefanie all the credit in the world,” he said of Salavantis. “She helps us out, helps us to get funds…”
Police and paramedics respond together to overdose calls. If police arrive first and the subject is unresponsive, they now administer Narcan, a medication used to block the effects of narcotics in a person’s system. Wright Township Police have used Narcan twice, since officers have begun carrying the product in April of 2016.
Engler went on about drugs and young people, stating, “Parents have got to be more vigilant… If their mood changes, if they’re on something, check their rooms. You’re the owner of the house.”
Asked what parents should do if drugs are found, Engler replied, “Notify the police department. It’s not that we want to arrest them; we want to help them.”
Salavantis urged families to be careful about prescription drugs in their homes. Medication should be locked up, so that children can’t access it. Drop boxes for disposal of unneeded medication are located throughout the county, she added.
“An individual can bring in unused, expired drugs and we can destroy them appropriately,” she said. She described teenagers taking their family members’ medications and having parties where they all drop random pills into a bucket and share them, which could be deadly.
Luzerne County has many agencies to help families with addiction problems. “All are always welcome to call my office and we can find an appropriate agency to help,” Salavantis concluded. “… We have to approach this in hitting the streets hard. But we also have to have treatment. It’s a disease and we need to do more.”