Heroin Fatalities Are ‘Off The Charts’ In The ‘Most Unhappy Place In America’

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Heroin fatalities are skyrocketing in a Pennsylvania community that now has a higher death rate from drugs than New York City, despite a population of just 318,000.

The Luzerne County coroner said deaths in the region from opioids, particularly the city of Wilkes-Barre, are spiraling out of control. The county experienced 137 fatal drug overdoses in 2015, quadrupling the rate in New York City, which has a population of nearly 8.5 million people. Wilkes-Barre is at the center of the devastation wrought by drugs, despite a population of roughly 41,000. An influx of fentanyl, a powerful painkiller 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, is helping propel the epidemic in addition to the city’s proximity to Interstates 80 and 81, where heavy drug trafficking occurs, reports NBC News.

It is also just four hours away from both New York City and Philadelphia where heroin is sometimes half the cost. The county coroner is expecting a higher death toll in the area for 2016.

“Twenty years ago, we might have 12 deaths we determined to be drug deaths,” William Lisman, the Luzerne County coroner, told NBC News. “This year we are on track for 150 deaths…By our standards, it’s off the charts.”

The rust belt city was named the most unhappy place in America following research that analyzed responses to polls conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between 2005 and 2009. Questions included, “How satisfied are you with your life?” and the researchers concluded that the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre metro area is the most unhappy region in the country. Residents say the mood in Wilkes-Barre contributes to the heroin problem and is often behind drug seeking behavior in residents.

“It is really an epidemic,” Christopher Emmett, who lost his son to a drug overdose in August, told NBC News. “We went to 14 funerals of my son’s friends who died of addiction in just one year. They’re dropping like flies, every day.”

Pennsylvania is among a number of states that have seen sharp increases in the overdose death rate from opioids in recent years. Heroin overdoses killed 281 people in Wisconsin in 2015, accounting for more deaths than car accidents and tripling the number of fatalities linked to heroin over figures for 2010. Between 2010 and 2015, one in every 1,000 residents of Wisconsin was hospitalized for a heroin or opioid drug overdose.

South Carolina experienced the largest increase in the heroin death rate, up by 57 percent between 2014 and 2015. The heroin death rate also rose 46 percent in North Carolina and 43.5 percent in Tennessee over the same period.

Heroin deaths contributed to the first drop in U.S. life expectancy since 1993 and eclipsed deaths from motor vehicle accidents in 2015. The substance accounts for roughly 63 percent of drug fatalities, which claimed 52,404 lives in the U.S. in 2015.

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