States Lack Good Data On Drug Abuse, Hampering Treatment


In Pennsylvania, it’s estimated opioids like heroin killed at least 1,300 people last year. In Massachusetts, 1,000 have died, and in Connecticut, heroin deaths jumped more than 85 percent in two years. NPR says determining the size and scope of the problem is harder than many people think. Pennsylvania, like many states, doesn’t require reporting of specific details on drug overdoses, and whatever other information is available is at least two years old. “It’s critical. It’s absolutely critical,” says Dr. Kurt Nolte of the National Association of Medical Examiners. He helped write a report that recommends listing out every drug found in a person’s system.

Nolte adds: “The interventions for whether it’s heroin or other illicit substances are different than, for example, if they are prescription drugs. And if you can’t tell the difference because everybody’s classified as multi-drug toxicity, you have no idea what’s killing people.” Pennsylvania’s most recent statistics date to 2012. Many other states lack a complete, up-to-date and accurate database. Why does it matter? In western Pennsylvania, heroin mixed with the pain drug fentanyl killed 22 people in a matter of weeks last year. With a real-time database, paramedics might be better prepared to stop an overdose.

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