Three hours before Pennsylvania officials on Wednesday gather to discuss opioid settlement funding in the state, Mercer County Coroner John Libonati is driving to his second overdose death of the day.

"It's completely grim," Mr. Libonati said.

There were 67 drug overdose deaths in Mercer County for 2021, according to Libonati. That's up 24 cases from the 43 overdose deaths in 2020. There have already been 26 overdose deaths for the county in the first four months of 2022, which is on pace for over 100 opioid related deaths this year.

"In all honesty there is an increase because the individuals all feel isolated," said Mr. Libonati. "I could attribute these deaths all to some form of that isolation."

The coroner feels that there is a way out of the darkness he sees too often in his line of work.

"We need to break that stigma," he said. "It's okay to do things that are healthy so you can escape depression and get over those other challenges without addictive behaviors." 

Mr. Libonati said that the state, counties and towns are all committed to helping people who struggle with addiction. 

"There are so many resources available. Most counties have behavioral health services that are beyond willing to help," he said.

While the population looks to find help, the pharmaceutical companies responsible for aiding in the opioid epidemic are preparing to pay. 

Pennsylvania is slated to receive a maximum of $1.07 billion from the $26 billion agreement with the nation's three major pharmaceutical distributors, Cardinal, McKesson, AmerisourceBergen and Johnson & Johnson, over the companies' role in creating and fueling the nationwide opioid crisis.

Later on Wednesday afternoon, Pennsylvania Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro will speak with Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary Jen Smith to discuss that settlement. 

But for coroners like Mr. Libonati and the countless families who have lost a love one to opioid addiction, that won't be enough help.

"We must talk about this issue and we've got to stop treating it like a bad thing someone does. Great people can face drug addictions. I wish I met these people one week earlier so I could get to know who they really were."

The coroner says that the public needs to engage in and encourage conversation surrounding addiction and drug use to help those who suffer from its impact at the highest level, before its too late. 

"This becomes a cycle," Mr. Libonati said just before arriving at his second overdose death of the day, 26th of the year and 136th since 2020. "I just want to stop people from losing their lives." 

Visit this link for local addiction assistance.