Efforts to rein in opioid prescribing in Pennsylvania have driven painkiller abusers to heroin and other illicit narcotics, pushing fatal overdoses into record territory for the second year in a row, according to data reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Pennsylvania saw 3,383 people die from drug abuse last year, according to a Drug Enforcement Administration compilation of coroners’ data. That’s up 23.4 percent from 2014, driven largely by increases in most southwestern counties. “We’re seeing folks continue to not only become addicted, misusing and abusing prescription opioids, but to make that transition from the opioids to street heroin,” said DEA agent Gary Tuggle.
Heroin, fentanyl, prescription opioids or combinations of the three were found in 81 percent of the overdose victims. Though painkillers are leading to deaths, federal and state officials aren’t backing off of their efforts to curb prescribing, which they consider the root of the heroin epidemic. “There’s no future in not cutting back on the opioids,” said Gary Tennis, secretary of the state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. Prescription painkillers are “what got us here.” U.S. Attorney David Hickton said, “We still have an almost avalanche supply of pills coming into this country and into this region. We still have opportunistic drug dealers that are supplying the cheapest and most powerful heroin ever known.”