Fatal heroin overdoses, families ripped apart, decaying communities and a rising financial toll for taxpayers – these are among the devastating consequences of a drug epidemic that has swept across northern Pennsylvania and shown its ugly face in Potter County. Three public officials in the forefront of trying to stem the tide reported on their progress and offered some advice to families and community members during a public presentation at the Oswayo Valley Memorial Library in Shinglehouse. Speakers were Potter County District Attorney Andy Watson, Shinglehouse Borough Police Chief Brad Buchholz and Potter County Drug and Alcohol Programs Administrator Colleen Wilber.
Watson explained that the law enforcement community has seen a meteoric rise
in serious drug cases since 2010. He has been a central figure in the
establishment and operation of a regional law enforcement strike force that has
intercepted some drug trafficking through undercover officers and confidential
informants. Buchholz has also played a role on the strike force, which is part
of a statewide initiative controlled by the office of Pennsylvania Attorney
General. They showed samples of heroin packets that are commonly available in
Potter County, inexpensive and often adulterated or “cut” with other
The D.A. cited more than 100 arrests since the strike force began its work,
some of which involved major dealers linked to distribution networks centered in
Williamsport and other more populated areas. Watson encouraged citizens to be on
the lookout for suspicious behavior that could be related to drug trafficking.
He also discussed a new initiative that encourages those who are addicted to
illicit substances to contact law enforcement officials for referral to
treatment options as an alternative to criminal prosecution. Buchholz suggested
that parents monitor their children’s internet or mobile device use, since those
electronic tools are used for 90 percent or more of drug transactions.
Wilber’s spoke of services available through the county. Her agency assesses
drug and alcohol offenders for addiction and connects them with treatment
options. Services are available to all county residents – not just those
involved the criminal justice system. She and Watson serve on a team that
administers two “treatment courts” that provide alternatives to traditional
criminal justice disposition in some cases.
Potter County has received national and state accolades for some of its early
forays into innovative programs that are geared toward reducing jail populations
and more effectively addressing issues and circumstances that can lead an
individual to criminal activity. Senior Judge John Leete presides over the DUI
and Drug Treatment Courts, while President Judge Stephen Minor has been a
driving force behind their establishment. Potter County Commissioners Doug
Morley, Paul Heimel and Susan Kefover have also been supportive, providing
increased staffing in the county’s Probation Department and establishment of a
Women’s Residential Recovery Center in Harrison Valley.