The opioid epidemic continues to take its toll in Franklin County.
During Thursday's annual update from the Franklin County Overdose Task Force, District Attorney Matt Fogal said 32 people died from drug overdoses in the county in 2018.
Although slightly down from 35 overdose deaths the year before — and further down from the county's highest recorded overdoes death count of 46 in 2016 — the crisis remains prevalent in our communities.
"Regardless of how one interprets the number 32, we in the Franklin County Overdose Task Force know that our fight continues, and we move forward working as hard as ever," said Fogal, who is the chairman of the task force. "This enemy is real and our mission continues until the enemy is defeated. The fight is nuanced and multi-faceted, and can only be won through teamwork."
Fogal gave an overview of the task force's different workgroups, providing specific details in regards to law enforcement during a press conference at Coyle Free Library in Chambersburg.
Through the Prescription Pill Takeback Initiative, 1,212 pounds of pills were collected and destroyed in 2018. That is an increase from the 949 pounds of pills collected in 2017 by the Waynesboro, Greencastle, Chambersburg and Mercersburg police departments. The state police station in Chambersburg also began participating in the initiative where prescription pills can be disposed of in a box at the stations last year.
Fogal said officers administered naloxone, also known as narcan, to 37 people in 2018, with three fatalities reported. Naloxone is used to reverse or block the effects of opioids during an overdose.
Fogal also provided an update on the Get Back Up program, which he spearheads.
Through a partnership with the Roxbury Treatment Center, Get Back Up added recovery liaison John Lloyd last year. Since Lloyd began serving as a first point of contact for the program in July, he's made 192 contacts. Of those contacts, Lloyd recommended 35 for treatment, with 20 enrolling.
The addition of a liaison allows law enforcement to reach out to Lloyd after identifying a need. Lloyd, a former addict himself, then meets the user on scene and tries to guide them on a road to recovery.
Get Back Up has a goal of diverting drug users to residential treatment rather than jail to improve overall public safety.
Under the program, individuals can walk in to any Franklin County police department or the district attorney's office and request help for their addiction without being charged with a crime.
"We continue to work at Get Back Up, but it's been a challenge," Fogal explained. "It has gotten better in 2018, but the challenges are still there. The addition of John has been tremendous, but we're still fighting some of that stigma and individuals being reluctant or distrustful of law enforcement."
Another treatment program highlighted on Thursday was the Good Wolf Treatment Court, which is an alternate to incarceration for drug users in the legal system.
The court had its first graduation in November. Since starting in 2017, GWTC has had 49 participants, with 20 of those being discharged.
"This is an evolving program that I believe offers a real shot for those interested in sober living," Franklin County President Judge Carol Van Horn said. "I can honestly say in my 19 years, almost 20 as a judge, this is some of the most rewarding and also heart-wrenching work I've ever done. We want these people to succeed."
Fogal closed his presentation with some of the challenges the county and task force face moving forward.
He referenced transportation for those in recovery; the recovery community's housing situation; stigma; effective prevention; unintended circumstances of the Good Samaritan Law; medication-assisted treatment; and finding ways to get convictions for drug delivery resulting in death cases.
"The theme of this is not declaring victory or mission accomplished," Fogal said. "We're not there yet. We're not going to be there for a while. This work is very difficult and there have been many failures. We're working together to stop overdoses specifically, but in essence, we're working to build a healthier community with healthier citizens."