While COVID-19 makes daily headlines, another epidemic has been lurking in the shadows. The Opioid Epidemic remains a deadly reality in Berks County, with 128 confirmed drug-related fatalities in 2020, up from 121 in 2019.
The increase serves as a stark reminder that the opioid epidemic has not receded in the midst of the pandemic. On the contrary, it has worsened, likely due to social isolation and anxiety. At a recent meeting of the SOS Berks Opioid Coalition, Berks County Acting Coroner John Hollenbach gave a presentation on the overdose numbers in Berks County, noting that the increase follows a national trend of rising fatalities.
A primary culprit in the majority of overdose deaths is fentanyl, he said.
“Of the 128 confirmed drug deaths in Berks County, 99 involved fentanyl,” Hollenbach said. “Fentanyl is now mixed with everything. If you are going out and getting an illicit drug from a dealer, you don’t know what you’re getting.”
Equally disturbing is an increase in deaths from non-opioid substances, including methadone and cocaine.
In light of these unsettling figures, it is essential that Berks residents remain aware that prevention, treatment and recovery programs have remained active and available throughout the pandemic.
“We need to remind folks that this is happening and that resources are available in Berks County,” said Council on Chemical Abuse Executive Director Stan Papademetriou.
Photo of Berks Acting Coroner John Hollenbach from Reading Eagle article