Since Thursday, Eight People Died In Scranton From Suspected Overdoses

December 18, 2018

Suspected drug overdoses killed eight people in Scranton since Thursday, the Lackawanna County coroner said, more than double the average weekly toll the opioid epidemic takes on the county.

“This is the highest I can recall ever over this short period of time,” city police Chief Carl Graziano said.

Six of those people died during the weekend, Coroner Tim Rowland said. The deceased include a 66-year-old man, a 56-year-old man, a 50-year-old man, a 45-year-old man, a 43-year-old man, a 38-year-old woman, a 34-year-old man and a 34-year-old woman. Rowland did not release names due to ongoing investigations.

Toxicology tests to determine what narcotic killed them will likely take about a month, Rowland said. All are suspected opioid overdoses. He expects that fentanyl, a narcotic many times more potent than heroin, killed them.

Police are treating the deaths as suspicious, as they do with all overdose deaths, and as potential homicides, Graziano said. Authorities are working to find the source of the drugs and file charges related to the deaths, he said.

While investigators won’t know for sure what killed the eight people until the test results come back, Graziano believes heroin laced with fentanyl, or possibly carfentanil, is the likely culprit. Carfentanil is a synthetic opioid 10,000 more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Such a spike in deaths has reverberated through the addiction community and prompted fears that a bad batch of drugs is on the streets. Bags of heroin laced with fentanyl or bags of straight fentanyl sold as heroin are increasingly common.

“There was definitely a bad batch going around,” said Marty Henehan, a Scranton activist fighting the addiction epidemic and co-founder of the Forever Sammi Foundation.

The county normally experiences between two and three overdose deaths per week, Rowland said.

The sudden surge in deaths seems highly localized. While Rowland’s office handled six overdose cases over the weekend, Luzerne County saw only one overdose death over that time, Luzerne County Coroner Bill Lisman said.

Luzerne County has seen 148 confirmed cases there thus far this year, Lisman said.

Lackawanna County has recorded about 65 confirmed overdose deaths so far this year but that number could rise as toxicology results come back, Rowland said.

Last year’s total came to 88, according to OverdoseFreePA, a University of Pittsburgh-based collaborative that tracks overdoses and provides links to local recovery resources.

“I think we’re going to be ahead,” Rowland said. “I think we’re going to be near 90.”

The number of deaths has steadily risen each year in Lackawanna County since 2014, which is about when the opioid epidemic shot to national prominence and the earliest data available on OverdoseFreePA.

Even naloxone, an overdose reversing agent, can have trouble countering fentanyl, Henehan said. Naloxone, often known by the brand name Narcan, works by blocking the brain’s receptors which connect with opioid molecules to prevent the narcotic from depressing the user’s central nervous system.

Fentanyl sometimes requires multiple doses of naloxone to work and naloxone requires someone there to administer it.

Henehan hopes to help some people get into recovery, but knows many more won’t.

“I know no matter what I say to you, you’re going to use,” Henehan said. “Don’t use alone.”

Contact the writer: jkohut@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9144; @jkohutTT; 570-348-9100 x5363; @ClaytonOver on Twitter

Update hourly