Elk County partners with AG’s office to launch drug treatment program

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro addresses a group of law enforcement professionals in Elk County Wednesday morning.

In 2020, 5,168 Pennsylvanians were lost to drug overdoses.

Saving even one life will make the Law Enforcement Treatment Initiative program worth it, Elk County District Attorney Tom Coppolo said Wednesday morning during a press conference announcing the expansion of Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s program into Elk County.

Shapiro, who is seeking the Democrat nomination for Pennsylvania governor, was joined at the press conference by Angela Eckstrom, executive director of Cameron, Elk, McKean Counties Alcohol & Drug Abuse Services; Chief Tom Nicklas of City of St. Marys Police; and law enforcement personnel from around the region as they spoke about the expansion of drug treatment programs in Elk County.

“My office continues to deal with this on all fronts,” Shapiro said, speaking of the war on drugs, “targeting dealers, holding drug companies accountable and bolstering treatment to make sure it is available for all.

“Since 2017, the year I took office, we have arrested 8,100 drug dealers. That’s more than four drug dealers every single day.”

The Attorney General’s Drug Strike Force has taken 3.2 million doses of heroin off the streets, as well as 5.54 million doses of fentanyl. Arrests for diversion — “that’s where a legal prescription drug is diverted for illegal use” — are up 135% over the number in 2016.

“We have shut down numerous drug operations in this region thanks to the great cooperation of our law enforcement partners,” Shapiro said.

“Fentanyl has rapidly replaced heroin as the dominant opioid. Last year we seized more fentanyl than in the last four years combined. It’s almost exclusively fentanyl now.”

It’s deadly even in small amounts, and tends to be inexpensive.

“We’ve seen doses sold on the street for less than a cheap six pack of beer,” Shapiro said. “Increasingly fentanyl is being used to create counterfeit prescription drug pills. Sadly it is driving up the overdoses.”

He described successful litigation against the makers of Oxycontin, and said $1.2 million will be coming back to Elk County this summer.

“What is clear is that our communities need additional support,” Shapiro said. “I think I speak for all of law enforcement here when I say we cannot simply arrest our way out of this crisis. We understand that drug addiction is a disease. We need more, and easier access to drug addiction programs.”

He mentioned Dr. Janene Holter who coordinates the LETI program for the attorney general’s office. Shapiro said Elk is the 16th county that has joined the LETI program. In 2021, 150 turned to law enforcement and were sent directly to treatment through the program.

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