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Saturday, April 9, 2016

Danni's Ripple Effect: Elk County Sheriff Testifies About Heroin Use


Heroin use is an epidemic without borders. It crosses genders, socio-economic classes and races. So it only proves to reason that a solution to help combat this growing epidemic would have no borders.

“The problem doesn’t stop at the borders,” said W. Todd Caltagarone, Elk County sheriff and former City of St. Marys Police chief. “At the very least, law enforcement must attack the problem from a regional perspective with a view of the broader context concerning the problem.”

Caltagarone was one of 16 people who testified at the Center for Rural Pennsylvania’s hearing on Friday at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford. The hearing, the first one of this year, centered on the heroin epidemic in rural Pennsylvania. This was also the first hearing held in the most rural location.

“It is critical to emphasize the continued need for financial and collaboration across all domains and spheres of responsibility.”

As with it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a regional effort to combat substance abuse.
“We gain little by each organization working within its own silo.” 

Caltagarone suggested an approach like the Multi-Disciplinary Teams formed to examine and evaluate child abuse cases.

“Utilizing this model, representatives from multiple disciplines can be brought to the table and cases can be individualized and manage on a county level.

Since opioid and heroin abuse affects all areas of social strata, a regional approach is necessary, he said.

Strain on Law Enforcement
In a rural county such as Elk County, Pa., members of law enforcement are doing their best to fight drugs in the community, but they are often stretched financially, personally and professionally.

Caltagarone said in the City of St. Marys, 14 officers in his area protect almost 100 square miles. Each of these officers is assigned drug investigations, but only three are trained in that specialty.
“Fifty percent of their caseloads are comprised of drug investigations and show no sign of lessening.”

Much of their time investigating is done outside of their regular shifts and time away from their families.

Economic Highs and Lows
Heroin is often the drug most addicts turn to because it is relatively inexpensive. But the matter can be rather costly to the community waging a battle against it.

“Without funding from the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office to regional drug task forces, we would never be able to meet the crisis before us.”

A funding streams needs to continue to flow in order to ebb the tide of heroin.

“Law enforcement cannot completely eradicate the problem, but with continued funding, we can restrain, repel, contain, push back and mitigate the epidemic.

The illegal drug activity has dire consequences on the community.

“(It) has a significant impact on communities in terms of increased criminal activity, the social fabric and the quality of life of our citizens.”

The funding needs don’t stop there.

“Equally important is prevention and education. This area can realize a greater return on investment in terms of financial and other resources.”

But once a person is incarcerated, their medical burdens fall on the taxpayer and when they are release the strain is transferred to the health care industry.

Never-ending Pain
 The road to heroin use often starts with prescription opioid use for pain management, Caltagarone said.

“Chronic pain or perhaps an invasive medical procedure often leads to a prescription for pain medication,” he said, citing scripts for Vicodin or OxyContin.

“When a prescription refill ends, the individual seeks out other sources and substances to deal with the physical pain. The problem of addiction, however, remains.”

Caltagarone said a person may experience many overdoses as they try to satisfy their addiction or manage their pain.

While the addict and the family tries to seek treatment, many times it’s for naught as either no bed is available at a treatment facility or a bed may be available, but the facility is far away from home and, ultimately, the addict’s support system.

Attaining a sober life is still out of reach.

“They experience relapse after relapse – returning to using at the same dosage level that they no longer have tolerance for.

“The result is an overdose.”

Sometimes the overdose is witnessed by others and help comes in time. That, however, is not a safe bet when gambling with heroin.

“The cycle continues until that day when the event is not witnessed or they are not found in time. 

The consequences are tragic.”

“It is absolutely essential that our physicians and pain management specialists fully conceptualize the depth of the problem as well as the potential for abuse and complications when dispensing opioid pain medications. 

“Those complications typically involve criminal activity, family problems, unemployment and anti-social behavior.”

A Deadly Choice
As the heroin epidemic spreads throughout the United States, it has become apparent that the Keystone State is swept up in the problem. Pennsylvania ranks third in the country for heroin use.

Elk County, at a population of just shy of 31,200, is much like other counties throughout Pennsylvania and is not immune to the heroin epidemic, particularly the deadly side of the illegal drug.

Elk County is ranked seventh in the state for drug-related overdose deaths per 100,000 people, according to Pennsylvania Coroner Data. According to the report, Elk County recorded 26.65 deaths. McKean County ranked No. 32 with 14.10 drug-related deaths. Cameron and Potter counties did not record any drug related deaths, according to the report.

Heroin is the drug of choice for Elk County, as it is with a majority of the counties throughout the state.


Anonymous said...

I don't think this is necessarily caused by people with real pain being prescribed medication. Most people don't than become Heroin addicts. I think this is caused by the availability and over prescribed of it by some Doctors for their own greediness & the over abuse of it by the younger generation. And yes sometimes turns to Heroin than, being a cheap but deadly high. But I would think you have to feeling pretty low or have other problems to even think of trying Heroin. This Country needs to get back to putting Americans to work for a fair wage.

Anonymous said...

I feel bad for Elk County, but I'm glad all these drugs are in Elk County and not in McKean County. Strange how just one county can make the difference.

Anonymous said...

Hello! McKean County is just as bad!

Anonymous said...

along with Potter Co.

Anonymous said...

WHY are there not more Suboxone providers and a Methadone clinic available in Elk-McKean counties? The local (dinosaur)leaders do not want these facilities as they prefer all addicts(our family members&neighbors)leave the area. Problem is we have local physicians who're creating hundreds of pharmaceutical addicts(remember the one from Emporium?). The opiate pain killers seem to be the worst but the Benzo's & ADD medications(legal speed)are also hooking people. Try searching "Oxycontin Cartel" and "The Sackler Oxycontin family" They made the Forbes list. Kentucky successfully sued the Oxy cartel because of the devastation of their state because of "hillbilly heroin". Truth be told, the oxycontin is MUCH more powerful than most street heroin. People must understand that these substances are VERY physically addictive. It's not like you "need" a cigarette. You become horribly sick, cannot get up yet, have anxiety so extreme and insomnia that can last for days. The 'sickness' of withdrawal does NOT last for a few days. It can go on for MONTHS and in cases where people have taken opiate pain killers for years? The sickness of withdrawal may NEVER go away. These powerful drugs change our brain's construction. Our kids need to be educated on how to deal with stress, anxiety, depression and they need to be taught to BEWARE of any substance they take even when prescribed. They also need to know the consequences of addiction. Prevention is key. For the ones already affected? Get some treatment centers(methadone/suboxone)in our area. Let the ONLY real option work for our people. Traditional drug rehabs(complete abstinence) have about a 3% success rate for opiate addicts. They are useless. Drug addiction is not a 'disease' nor a 'crime' . It is an affliction and most opiate addicts become dependent on pharmaceuticals and only switch to heroin because it's all that's available at the time OR because it's cheaper. Heroin. We have more fed level police agencies than ever yet, our country's flooded with illegal drugs from foreign countries. What does that tell us? Taking drugs supports domestic & international criminals. Another good reason to stay clean.

Joe Mamma said...

You simpletons can push the blame off wherever you want, but it still comes down to the fact that the individual abusing the medication was week minded and made a poor choice to over medicate. I have had numerous different surgeries and ailments where Hydrocodon, Oxycotin, and several other pain meds have been prescribed and have never been allowed to refill them past the original prescription amount and never got the notion to even try an illegal drug to compensate for the pain.

Anonymous said...

Hey joe, you have the nerve to call someone a "simpleton" when you have not walked in their shoes? You have no clue what these people are up against. Granted, there are simple abuse cases but there are a myriad (that means many for you joe) of reasons that someone ends up with problems. Long term pain not properly addressed, a former ALCOHOLIC (government sponsored addiction) type personality. Depression and many other reasons.
So instead of criticize, how about trying to contribute to the solution in your community. Keep aware of possible drug sales, suspicious people, maybe try to get somebody help that needs it.
By the way, a SIMPLETON would be somebody who doesn't know the difference between WEEK and WEAK and have an idea how to spell the meds they were taking, i.e. HYDROCODONE not HYDROCODON!! OXYCONTIN not OXYCOTIN!! So possibly the definition of SIMPLETON has been changed, right joe? spelled with a little j of course... Roger the Dodger....and out.

Anonymous said...

McKean County... straight and sober

Anonymous said...

4:19, They are in Mckean County!!!!

Anonymous said...

Amen 10:53 & 11:53 !

Anonymous said...

Joe Mamma said... <<< True American hero....

Anonymous said...

Too many people living off the system, not holding a job because they don't have to. What do they do with all the time they have on their hands? They get involved in drugs. It starts when they are young and not held accountable for their actions. Going to school is not optional parents, making your kids get up and go to school helps them understand about getting up and going to work. When did going to work also become optional? System sucking people becoming leeches and drug addicts, thieves and nothing but problems in today's society. Then when to do get themselves high they are the first to demand help to save their sorry asses. What do they have to lose by calling an ambulance or going to the hospital? They don't pay those bills. I know working people who need to go to the doctor but can't afford the co pay or the deductible they have. But the system sucking drug addicts are ruling our area. Kick them off welfare, make them hold a job like everyone else. Hard to get high when your alarm is going to be going off in a few hours. These POS's don't care, they don't answer to any alarms. Not as long as their welfare goes uninterrupted. You want to do drugs? Do them, but don't call anyone for help when you mess up. If you are old enough to seek the drugs and put them into your body, you are damn old enough to understand the consequences.