Cocaine, meth on rise in Pennsylvania’s early warning areas

HARRISBURG (AP) — Methamphetamine and cocaine use are on the rise in Pennsylvania while prescription drug and heroin deaths are leveling off in some areas, data that appears to reflect nationwide trends.

Jennifer Smith, secretary for Pennsylvania’s Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, told a state Senate committee Monday that the state is seeing “quite an uptick” in cocaine and methamphetamine use in three early warning areas.

The Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Johnstown areas are usually the first to show new trends across Pennsylvania, Smith said.

“We kind of knew it was coming, we just didn’t know how quickly that trend was going to start shifting across the state,” Smith said in an interview later Monday.

A similar shift has emerged in some Midwestern states, and federal officials have expressed worry about a trend nationwide.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency reported in October a concern that methamphetamine and cocaine use are being seen at much higher levels in areas that haven’t historically been hotspots for those drugs.

“Cocaine and methamphetamine are definitely on the rise,” U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency spokesman Rusty Payne said Monday.

New surges in the use of methamphetamine and cocaine mixed with fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, have contributed to rising drug overdose deaths reported in hard-hit Ohio. Kentucky reported last year that methamphetamine made a comeback, with a 57 percent increase in overdose deaths from 2016 to 2017.

Similar reports are emerging from Philadelphia.

Smith pointed to a Philadelphia Department of Public Health report showing a rising number of overdose deaths that involved cocaine and fentanyl, from 18 percent in 2016 to 32 percent in 2017.

Law enforcement seizures, police tracking of sales and reports from people needing medical treatment also point to growing use of cocaine and meth in Pennsylvania, Smith said. In October, the U.S. attorney’s office in Pittsburgh reported the largest seizure of methamphetamine in the history of western Pennsylvania.

But Smith said the opioid crisis might be starting to wane in some parts of Pennsylvania, which saw some of the nation’s steepest increases in drug overdose rates in recent years. Some areas of Pennsylvania are starting to see fewer overdose deaths, as more robust health care and law enforcement programs come online, and more people seek treatment, she said.

Nationally, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures showed a slowdown in overdose deaths in late 2017 and the first three months of 2018.