Overdose Deaths Rise in 2020

While COVID-19 makes daily headlines, another epidemic has been lurking in the shadows. The Opioid Epidemic remains a deadly reality in Berks County, with 128 confirmed drug-related fatalities in 2020, up from 121 in 2019.

An SOS Berks Update

The increase serves as a stark reminder that the opioid epidemic has not receded in the midst of the pandemic. On the contrary, it has worsened, likely due to social isolation and anxiety. At a recent meeting of the SOS Berks Opioid Coalition, Berks County Acting Coroner John Hollenbach gave a presentation on the overdose numbers in Berks County, noting that the increase follows a national trend of rising fatalities.

Fentanyl Use

A primary culprit in the majority of overdose deaths is fentanyl, he said.

"Of the 128 confirmed drug deaths in Berks County, 99 involved fentanyl," Hollenbach said. "Fentanyl is now mixed with everything. If you are going out and getting an illicit drug from a dealer, you don't know what you're getting."

Equally disturbing is an increase in deaths from non-opioid substances, including methadone and cocaine.

Treatment and Recovery in Berks

In light of these unsettling figures, it is essential that Berks residents remain aware that prevention, treatment and recovery programs have remained active and available throughout the pandemic.

"We need to remind folks that this is happening and that resources are available in Berks County," said Council on Chemical Abuse Executive Director Stan Papademetriou.

Available resources include:

  • FREE Narcan kits for county businesses and residents.

  • Blue CARES, a program that encourages individuals to seek treatment for addiction after being revived with NARCAN® by a police officer.

  • Berks County Warm Handoff Program to provide treatment intervention to individuals who enter hospitals with substance use disorders.

  • Treatment services including residential, outpatient, withdrawal management and more remain available in Berks.

  • Recovery support, while many in-person meetings have been put on hold, support groups have continued to operate through online forums.

Read a recent Reading Eagle article about Berks County overdose deaths.

Photo of Berks Acting Coroner John Hollenbach from Reading Eagle article

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