Berks Co. Update: COVID-19 & the Opioid Crisis

April 7, 2021

On March 31, Berks County Commissioners and local experts gave an update on the opioid crisis, which has been negatively impacted by the pandemic. While much of the news wasn’t good, with an unfortunate increase in overdose deaths, presenters stressed that treatment and support remain available in the county.

Speakers included: County Commissioner Kevin S. Barnhardt; Acting Berks County Coroner Jonn M. Hollenbach; Berks County District Attorney John Adams; Council on Chemical Abuse (COCA) Executive Director Stanley Papademetriou; COCA Community Programs Specialist; and Chief of the Division of Addiction Medicine at Tower Health, Dr. William Santoro.

Hollenbach noted that the county suffered 130 overdose deaths in 2020, a record high, up from 126 the previous year, and far outreaching 2018’s 94 confirmed drug deaths. He said the uptick is due, in large part, to the presence of fentanyl in many illicit drugs.

“If it wasn’t for fentanyl the number of deaths would be significantly less,” Hollenbach said. “The illicit drug trade is Russian roulette. People might think they’re purchasing cocaine but they really don’t know what they’re getting. Fentanyl is getting mixed with everything.”

But Fentanyl isn’t the only culprit. COVID-19 brought on social and economic hardships that were particularly detrimental for people struggling with addiction. Santoro pointed to social isolation as a key factor that worsened the opioid crisis.

“COVID has been horrible for addiction,” said Santoro. “We have more patients who need treatment than ever before.”


Both Santoro and Stroman noted that treatment and support for recovery have remained available throughout the pandemic. Support meetings have been held virtually, providing a safety net for people in recovery, Stroman pointed out. And Santoro indicated that an increase in telehealth treatment was a positive outcome that will likely continue after the pandemic ends.

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