A Storm Within a Storm: Drug Overdoses in Berks County

In Berks County in 2020, there were 118 confirmed drug deaths, 90 of which were related to the opioid drug fentanyl. That sobering fact was discussed recently by the county’s Acting Coroner John Hollenbach. He noted that victims are often caught unawares by the presence of fentanyl in other illicit drugs.

“If someone is using illicit drugs, they don’t know what they’re getting,” he said.

Hollenbach was a recent guest on BCTV’s Drug & Alcohol Update, hosted by COCA’s Community Programs Specialist Yvonne Stroman. He along with Berks County Detective Sergeant Pasquale Leporace discussed the topic A Storm within a Storm: Drug Overdoses in Berks County. The episode focused on county-wide efforts to fight the drug epidemic and reduce overdoses.

Overdoses don’t discriminate

Hollenbach stressed that, while some people mistakenly believe that Berks County overdoses are a ‘Reading problem,’ overdoses occur in all areas of the county, and beyond.

“It’s all over. There’s nothing to say this is a Reading problem. It’s a Berks County problem, a Pennsylvania problem, a United States problem. It does not discriminate.”

Narcan saves lives

Both men addressed the importance of the overdose-reversal drug Narcan in saving lives. Narcan, which is carried by law enforcement officers and available free upon request to Berks County families, blocks the effects of opioids on the brain, restoring breathing when administered during an overdose.

“Narcan has saved the lives of many, many people who are now in recovery. It gave them another chance at life,” Leporace said.

Education, Prevention & Treatment

When it comes to reducing drug use, and by extension overdoses, Leporace made it clear that law enforcement alone could not solve the problem. Educating people about prevention and helping people suffering from substance use disorder to get into treatment are both crucial.

“We are trying to make our community safer by doing what we can enforcement-wise, education-wise and prevention-wise,” he said.

Watch the full episode below.

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