How One Rust Belt County Copes With Heroin Overdose Epidemic


A Pennsylvania county of 200,000 people recorded eight heroin overdoses in 69 minutes this month, says the Washington Post. There would be a total of 16 overdoses in 24 hours and 25 over two days. Three people died. Many were saved by a recent decision to equip every first responder with the fast-acting antidote naloxone. The toll wasn't from a supply of heroin that had been poisoned on its journey from South America. Nor was there a party where careless junkies miscalculated the amount of heroin they could handle. It was simply an extreme example of what communities in parts of the U.S. are enduring as the heroin epidemic rages on. “It's absolutely insane. This is nuts,” said District Attorney Eugene Vittone, a former paramedic who is trying to hold back the tide of drugs washing across Washington County, a Rust Belt area 30 miles south of Pittsburgh. On any day, he said, the county averages five to eight overdoses, almost all from heroin.

“There's been a progressive increase in overdoses the last two years, and it just went out of control,” added Rick Gluth, supervising detective on Vittone's drug task force. “I've been a police officer for 27 years and worked narcotics for the last 15, and this is the worst. I'd be glad to have the crack epidemic back.” The United States averages 110 overdose deaths from legal and illegal drugs every day. The heroin death toll has quadrupled in the decade that ended in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By all accounts, it has only grown worse since. In Washington County, there have been more than 50 fatal overdoses this year. The national drug-death total, larger than that from auto accidents, is disproportionately concentrated in the Rust Belt, the Great Lakes region and the Northeast.

Comments are closed.