(The Center Square) — Law enforcement in Philadelphia’s suburban counties are worried about crime rates and the strain that drug problems, especially driven by xylazine, have caused.
Criminals with addiction issues take up more resources and require more attention from police, pulling officers off the street. During a House Republican Policy Committee focused on crime, Bucks County Sheriff Fred Harran warned of the difficulties his office has faced.
“Drugs continue to be on the rise, fueled by open borders in our country,” Harran said. “The ease of American citizens to get drugs is beyond the human imagination.”
He focused attention on the xylazine, a sedative also known as tranq, because it’s animal tranquilizer, which complicates health care treatment and jail staffing alike.
“Detox now for xylazine is seven days and beyond, where detox traditionally for drugs is about 72 hours,” Harran said. “Xylazine and the other drugs it’s mixed with has profound effects on the human body, attacking every organ…it’s not so easy to get them into jail because of all the medical problems.”
Prisoners end up with longer hospital stays, he said, and police watch them outside jail – sometimes for weeks.
“It’s either that, or cut them loose and put them back on the streets,” Harran said. “This prevents the police officers from stopping crime, yet it does worse — it prevents them from responding to your 911 call.”
The sheriff wasn’t only focused on incarceration as a way to deal with drug addiction, though.
“We do need treatment, we need long-term treatment,” Harran said. “Insurance companies can’t throw people out after 10 days — no one’s getting cured in 10 days, that’s not possible…I’m not sure what the answer is, but it needs some funding to get people into treatment.”
Jennifer Schorn, first assistant district attorney for Bucks County, echoed that sentiment. Without tackling addiction, the general public suffers as well.
“We believe in recovery and we believe in certain levels of rehabilitation, but when you’re committing crimes to support your addiction, that’s a problem for all of us,” Schorn said.
Bucks County officials have started to put more money into treatment and anti-drug initiatives. In December, the county’s Opioid Advisory Committee released an 18-month “roadmap” for how it will spend money from the state’s opioid settlement, which directs 70% of the money to counties over the next 18 years.
The plan includes a behavioral health crisis center in Doylestown; providing the public with naloxone, an overdose-reversal drug also known as Narcan; and expanding the use of medication-assisted treatment for county jail inmates, among two dozen proposals to create or expand county programs.
Bucks County expects to receive $45 million over 18 years from the opioid settlement.
The xylazine problem is also one of proximity for the county. Philadelphia is the epicenter of xylazine use and the drug’s proliferation is spreading from the eastern part of the commonwealth to the western part. In September, two xylazine overdose deaths in Beaver County prompted the Pittsburgh district attorney to issue a public warning. In October, the Pennsylvania House passed a bill to criminalize xylazine possession.
“It is a crumbling house of cards,” Harran said. “Heroin and methamphetamine poses its own problems; xylazine poses a whole new set of problems.”