Leaders fighting back against growing heroin, opioid use in York County



Officials in York County announced a new initiative to fight the growing heroin and opioid problem with support from a family who recently lost a loved one from an overdose.

Representatives from All On Board York County, Rock Hill Police, the York County Coroner’s office, and Keystone Substance Abuse Services announced an initiative called YCHOPE for York County Heroin-Opioid Prevention Education on Tuesday.

The coroner’s office said they worked 28 overdose deaths in 2011, with zero heroin incidents. In 2015, there were 42 deaths from overdose, including nine from heroin. Police are finding more heroin on the streets as well.

“It’s just an increasing problem in our community, Rock Hill, the county, and the nation,” said Rock Hill Police Chief Chris Watts.

Jessica Benson died in February from an overdose. She left behind a 6-year-old child, and two devastated parents.

“She for years, thought she could stop anytime she wants until she hit heroin,” said her mother, Terri.

The Benson family said Jessica’s problem started after a prescription for depression medication. She became addicted, they said, and eventually turned to heroin.

“Our love for her will never stop,” said Jessica’s father, Jeff.

Jessica Benson’s struggle is similar to a problem that substance abuse experts say is becoming an epidemic across the country.

“What we’re seeing is just one prescription can lead to abuse, and the next thing you know they’re on a terrible and tragic path,” said Janet Martini with Keystone Abuse Services.

Martini said Keystone is working on a young adult program because, she said, many of the problems are in that age group.

Benson’s parents said they wished they would have made tough decisions sooner, especially after noting warning signs like legal trouble, excessive sleeping, and items missing from the house.

“She’ll get better, she’ll overcome it, it’s not that serious, it’s a phase,” Terri Benson recalled.

Tuesday, the Bensons stood alongside representatives in York County for YCHOPE. At the news conference, Rock Hill Police announced they hoped to soon train officers to use and carry Narcan, a product used to help those suffering from an overdose.

“Narcan is a fast-acting drug and generally that can save them, at least for the first few minutes to help them out until EMS or fire arrives,” said Watts.

Prescription pill abuse continues to be a priority. York County All On Board announced Tuesday that medicine drop boxes have collected more than 3 million doses since 2009. YCHOPE plans to talk with doctors and dentists to urge them to only prescribe the necessary amount of medication, especially when it can be abused.

“If red flags are going off, if there’s smoke there’s fire, and you just have to make hard choices because they’ll die,” Terri Benson said.

The Bensons said they tried rehabilitation, taking Jessica to at least seven different centers. They said she would often try to come home and relapse. The parents said they’ll stand behind YCHOPE as they prepare to spread awareness. They said it’s what Jessica would have wanted.

“She hated her addiction, she despised it, she self-loathed. She would be happy to have one person turned away from it now if that’s what her story would do,” Terri Benson said.

A representative from the York County Coroner’s Office said that in 2016, the office has responded to 13 overdose deaths. Seven of those were related to heroin.

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