Meth, Opioid Abuse Intertwine In Pennsylvania

By Kelly Burch 12/26/18

“They go hand-in-hand. Many are literally just making meth, just to sell it, and support their heroin habit,” said a Pennsylvania police chief.

In Pennsylvania, meth and opioid abuse is hitting its citizens hard.

As the nation focuses on the dangers of the synthetic opioid fentanyl, use of methamphetamine has continued to rise around the country. However, in rural Pennsylvania, law enforcement said that there is no sense in parsing the issue because opioid abuse and meth abuse are so closely tied. 

“They go hand-in-hand. Many are literally just making meth, just to sell it, and support their heroin habit,” Berwick, Pennsylvania Police Chief Ken Strish told The Philadelphia Inquirer

In Berwick, 46% of drug arrests over the past six years have involved meth. And it’s not just the much-talked-about meth coming from Mexican cartels. Strish said that small shake-and-bath meth operations are still detrimental to his community. 

“We’ve seen a four-apartment complex burn to the ground relatively quickly because of a meth fire,” he said. 

The problem is so widespread that the town has earned the nickname “Methwick,” Strish said. 

“Yes, our numbers were very intense for a community of 10,000," he added.

Still, while 55 people had been arrested for meth possession in Berwick this year, 86 were arrested for heroin possession. 

In Dubois, Pennsylvania, another rural town, law enforcement and community members gathered at a fundraiser for the family of Officer Patrick Straub, who was killed in September during a head-on crash with a driver who had “off the charts” amounts of methamphetamine in his system. 

“He was a good person that deserved better. He loved his wife, loved his child," DuBois City Police Cpl. Matthew Robertson said. “Always spoke about his child. Beautiful little girl.”

The driver, 32-year-old Corey Alan Williams, was also killed in the accident, leaving behind two daughters. The tragedy was just the latest meth-related incident that has left DuBois families reeling. 

Speaking at the fundraiser, DuBois Police Chief Blaine Clark said that the city has seen a 129% increase in drug reports, driven by meth use. 

“It’s crazy. I’ve never seen something boom as quick as it did,” he said. 

Clark said that he sees long-time users turn into “zombies,” leaving their kids uncared for. “You go into these houses and there’s kids and, like, three or four meth heads laying around,” he said.

Both Dubois and Berwick are along a major highway that makes it easy for dealers and drug users to travel to and from the surrounding states with drugs. 

“We’re getting a lot of local people going down to Akron, Ohio. That’s a big hot spot," said Clark. "They’re going to Johnstown area, and they’re going to Philly and Pittsburgh.”

That’s why law enforcement has been targeting dealers who are bringing drugs into the area. 

“We want to get the dealers who are bringing this poison in, that’s who we’re after,” Clark said. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.