Berks DA: Fentanyl is common denominator of death

Number of deaths involving fentanyl keeps rising

READING, Pa. - For the first time since 2014, the number of opioid overdose deaths in Berks County is not expected to increase. Berks County District Attorney John Adams, however, warned it's not all good news.

As of early December, there have been 115 opioid overdose deaths. The number is expected to increase to about 120 by the end of the year. That's about the same it was in 2016, but the number of deaths involving fentanyl continues to increase dramatically.

"The fentanyl is really becoming, what I call, the common denominator of death," Adams told 69 News.

Adams said in 2015, 21 percent of overdose deaths involved fentanyl. So far in 2017, fentanyl accounted for about 70 percent of deaths.

"We can't take our foot off the pedal," added Adams.

The district attorney's office is continuing to crack down on the drug dealers, but it is also increasingly putting more emphasis on prevention education, increasing access to Narcan, and getting more users into rehab through a program called "warm handoff."

It's a partnership involving multiple agencies, including the Council on Chemical Abuse and Reading Hospital.

"The goal is really to get people when they present to the emergency department, directly into treatment," said Dr. Charles Barbera of Reading Hospital.

Barbera said the hospital sees about two to five overdoses a day. He added the program started two years ago. Back then, a recovery specialist was on-call. Now, a specialist is on-hand at the hospital 24/7, and it's having an impact.

"In the last six months, since we've gone 24/7, we've gotten about almost 300 people directly from the emergency department into recovery," Barbera explained.

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