WILKES-BARRE — When Darlene Davis or someone else in the Hanover Township Neighborhood Crime Watch sees something out of the ordinary, they take notes and call the police, just as they’re told do.
The police appreciate the assistance from the extra eyes and ears on the streets, said Davis, president of the group. “They don’t mind how many times you call,” she said.
The Hanover group has been in existence for four years and its tips have helped. “They glean a lot of information from our Facebook page,” Davis said.
County, state and federal law enforcement officials Wednesday night encouraged such cooperation at the annual Luzerne County Crime Watch meeting that Davis and more than 50 others attended at the county courthouse.
The combined efforts of the various agencies have shown positive results through arrests, shutting down nuisance properties and getting drug dealers and illegal drugs off the streets, added District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis. Different strategies have been employed — from the short-term quick hits by the Luzerne County Drug Task Force to the more detailed investigations by the state Office of Attorney General and the FBI’s Safe Streets gang task force, she said.
Salavantis said she’s responded to critics complaining about things getting worse by saying, “No it’s not. It’s getting better.”
County Drug Task Force coordinator Dan Mimnaugh agreed. “It’s not getting worse. What’s getting worse is the deaths,” he said.
Heroin is the problem drug now whereas in the 1980s it was crack cocaine, Mimnaugh said. “We’ll get through this. It’s all cyclical.”
But the county is on track this year to match the 140 overdose deaths from 2016, according to county Coroner Bill Lisman.
“Just today, I signed off on our 40th suspected overdose,” he said.
Lisman noted that opioids and heroin laced with fentanyl are behind many of the overdoses. Some of the deaths have been from cocaine, he added.
His office has been working with the district attorney in an attempt to reduce the number of overdoses and hold responsible those who caused them.
“We’re doing more autopsies to take it to the next level,” said Lisman.
Earlier in the day, the district attorney filed charges against a man and woman from Wilkes-Barre for allegedly delivering the heroin and fentanyl that led to a fatal overdose. The charges are the first in the county’s history.
The county is not alone in dealing with the opioid epidemic, said Steven Ross, director of the Luzerne-Wyoming Counties Drug and Alcohol Program. Every county in the state and every state in the nation is affected by it, he said.
The problem has been in the making for 10 to 20 years through the over-prescribing of prescription pain medication, with no immediate resolution, Ross explained. “There is no quick fix for this,” he said.
Education and treatment are keys to prevention in the long term. The use of the opiate antidote Narcan is a short-term solution, Ross said. “That is saving lives,” he noted.
It’s available over the counter at drug stores and there are educational programs on how to administer it, said Ross said.