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Franklin Co. drug deaths climb

December 04, 2005|By DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Franklin County has experienced an unusally high number of accidental drug overdose deaths this year, but Coroner Jeffrey R. Conner said the results of toxicology tests on the victims indicate no common thread other than "just increased drug usage as a whole."

Seven people died of overdoses between March 16 and Oct. 2, Conner said Thursday when he released the causes of death on the three most recent victims.

"Typically, we get between one and three a year," he said. There were three overdose deaths in 2004, he said.

In several of the cases, more than one drug or a drug mixed with alcohol were involved, Conner said. Drugs found during the toxicological tests included heroin, cocaine, methadone and the painkiller Fentanyl, he said.

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"The big factor people need to understand ... is just because you used it one time, doesn't mean it won't kill you the second time," Conner said of drugs such as heroin. "The trouble with heroin and other stuff is there is no therapeutic level."

The following people died of accidental drug overdoses this year, according to Conner:

· Anthony David Longo, 26, of 545 Bracken Drive, Chambersburg, died March 16 of acute mixed drug toxicity, including Fentanyl and other prescription medications.

· Richard Baughman, 53, of 221 E. Washington St., Chambersburg, died March 29 of Fentanyl toxicity.

· John Ryan Furry, 18, of 2135 Stillhouse Hollow Road, Shippensburg, Pa., died May 7 of methadone toxicity.

· Daniel Eugene Dorty, 33, of 7132 Lincoln Way West, St. Thomas, Pa., died July 30 of heroin and alcohol toxicity.

· Daniel J. Keller, 22, of 5033 Greenvillage Road, Chambersburg, died Aug. 14 of mixed drug toxicity, including cocaine and alcohol.

· Ryan Christopher Bietsch, 22, of 12444 Dickeys Road, Mercersburg, Pa., died Sept. 13 of heroin toxicity.

· Mark N. Cotabish, 25, of 46 Summer Breeze Lane, Chambersburg, died Oct. 2 of heroin and cocaine toxicity.

Hard drug abuse was a factor in 132 medical-surgical and emergency department admissions and 63 psychiatric admissions at Chambersburg Hospital, and 71 medical-surgical and emergency department admissions at Waynesboro Hospital this year, according to Summit Health statistics. Summit Health was unable to determine from hospital records how many of those admissions could be categorized as overdoses, according to a spokeswoman.

Drug delivery resulting in death is a felony equivalent to third-degree murder in Pennsylvania, but District Attorney John F. Nelson said a recent state Supreme Court ruling and other factors make the prosecution of such cases difficult.

Determining how a victim obtained an illegal drug or controlled substance is one factor, but a mixture of drugs in a person's system further complicates the matter, he said. If more than one drug is present, it can be difficult to prove which one caused the death, he said.

Nelson said the court ruling earlier this year requires prosecutors to demonstrate malicious intent on the part a person charged with drug delivery resulting in death. As a result, "we've concluded we don't have sufficient evidence to go forward" in the cases his office has reviewed since the ruling.

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