Luzerne County’s 2015 Overdose Death Rate Breaks Record

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WILKES-BARRE -- A new report from the Luzerne County coroner paints a grim picture of our area's heroin problem.

The report notes that drug overdoses are becoming so out of control that a record number of people in Luzerne County died from the epidemic last year.

Donald Tonkin of Exeter remembers being so depressed, he tried taking his own life by overdosing on sleeping pills.

“I was so nervous, and I was scared and I was frightened, but I thought if this was going to end my misery of what I was feeling and what I've done in my past, I just prayed to God, 'Please take me,'” he said.

God said no. Donald then got help and went through counseling. He's been sober since 2012.

But a rising number of people living in Luzerne County are not as lucky. The county coroner's office released a report showing 95 people died because of drug overdoses--mostly from heroin--in 2015. That beats the previous record of 70 people from 2013.

Coroner William Lisman predicts this year will break last year's record if the overdose death rate continues to climb like it has in the past several months.

“We will be close to 150 drug deaths in 2016,” he said.

There is a drug that can often reverse drug overdoses called Narcan. But at $40 per use, it's expensive and it sometimes won't work on heroin.

“This is not a Wilkes-Barre issue. This is not a Luzerne County issue. This is an issue all across the United States,” said Wilkes-Barre Fire Chief Jay Delaney.

When his crews aren't fighting fires, they're often treating an overdose victim with Narcan. His crews always suggest that the victim goes to a hospital, but the victim doesn't have to. Chief Delaney would like to see that changed.

“Past Narcan, they absolutely need to get into a counseling program so we don't see this repeated again,” he said.

Since the Wilkes-Barre fire department started treating overdose victims with Narcan in January 2015, they've done it more than 230 times.

The fire department likely saved lives, but Narcan is so expensive and there are so many overdoses in Wilkes-Barre, the department says it cannot afford it much longer without more help at a state or federal level.


  • Honset Bruno

    So? I don’t see the point of this story. Are we to feel bad for this trash? People need to be accountable for their decisions. Pure and simple. Nobody forced any of these fools to start down the path of drug use. Or has society completely forgot that fact about these “sad and poor victims with a disease”? You reap what you sew. Let ’em rot – and NOT at the taxpayers’ expense. I think we all have enough on our plates, never mind the junkies and meth heads wandering about.

  • Frank Rizzo

    This is most excellent news. If only 3 or 4 times as many overdosed, the dealers would go broke. Keep it going NEPA, you can do better!

  • E

    Ha ha! It appears the stereotype Polocks of Luzerne county are getting what they deserve. Not smart enough to realize that a concealed carry permit is useless for protecting yourself against karma lol. Now hurry and blame someone or something else for your low class behavior :)

  • Hazelton - What a Joke

    I think people already realize this already — look at all the crime that has been going on over the past several years down there — shootings, stabbing, drugs — it’s a common weekly thing on the news.

  • laura

    treating people with narcan just gives them more incentive to keep using. it takes away some of the fear.

      • Fed up

        Pretty sad that people say such rude things….. I hope no one ever has to feel the pain of a loved one addicted to a drug. Be careful of the hate you spew at others pain. Take a look in the eyes of a mother who just buried their child, only then would you see the heartache drug abuse causes. Your reactions are exactly the reason that people are afraid to speak out about drug addiction and look for support when dealing with such an awful situation. I don’t know a perfect person walking this planet! The stigma around heroin addiction is the exact reason why so many families suffer in silence …. More discussions need to be had regarding this epidemic before we can ever find relief. God bless all of you awful people. I will pray for you, and pray you never know the pain that far too many families feel.

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