Bethlehem Press

Monday, April 24, 2017

Grant awarded to assist in heroin, opioid fight

Monday, February 20, 2017 by CONTRIBUTED ARTICLE in Local News

District Attorney Jim Martin announced recently Lehigh County Regional Intelligence and Investigation Center (RIIC) has received a grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) in the amount of $148,050.00. The funds will be used to create an Illicit Drug Identification and Tracking System.

In announcing the grant, Martin stressed the problem with illicit drugs and some prescription medications, specifically heroin and opioids, is having a catastrophic effect not only on citizens of Lehigh County but also on the people of our commonwealth and nation. The Center for Disease Control cited over 50,000 drug-related deaths in the United States in 2015. The Pennsylvania State Coroners’ Association reported 3,505 such deaths in Pennsylvania for the same year.

In Lehigh County, there was a total of 117 drug-related deaths in 2015, of which 79 were heroin/opiate related. That year’s total was up from 88 in 2014. The 2014 total was nearly doubled in 2016, with 153 drug-related deaths to date for 2016. Martin noted that number may rise when results from toxicology reports, which are still pending, become available. There are already nine probable drug-related deaths in 2017.

While the heroin and opioid problem is a grave concern, Martin pointed out there are other drugs that also have had deleterious effects on our population, such as synthetic marijuana and methamphetamines. Therefore, the grant application requested assistance in battling illicit drugs versus simply opioids and heroin.

The grant will allow Julia Kocis, director of RIIC, and software consultants from Computer Aid Inc. to develop a single application that will combine information from various agencies, organizations and offices. It will provide a better means of collecting, analyzing and sharing data between local police departments, Lehigh County Coroner’s Office and District Attorney’s Drug Task Force. Not only will it allow law enforcement to track information more efficiently, it also will enable specific data to be confined to the agency, organization or office that needs it.

In addition, the software will help track illicit drugs and information on identifiable markings, such as heroin stamps, heroin brands and synthetic drug compounds. Toxicology reports from the coroner’s office will be included in the database. Drug-related deaths and demographics of the decedents, such as occupation, age, sex, race, residence, location of death and education, will be identified as well.

The Illicit Drug Identification and Tracking System will not only be a tool for law enforcement. The data it generates will show social implications to assist drug, alcohol and mental health treatment communities. While only law enforcement can access the system, reporting from it can show trends, which may be shared.

While creating the grant proposal, Director Kocis worked with Lehigh County Coroner Scott Grim and Chief County Detective — Narcotics Joseph P. Stauffer to determine what was needed to most effectively help law enforcement. Consultation with law enforcement and the coroner’s office will continue during the software development process.