Coroner Joseph Campbell in Philadelphia’s suburban Bucks County says opioid deaths in his county shot up nearly 50 percent in 2016. “We set a record,” he said, adding that he sees no end in sight. “We had three more this past Saturday,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. In neighboring Montgomery County, the death toll climbed by 43 percent. “We’re getting pulverized,” said Alexander Balacki, Montgomery County’s first deputy coroner. Philadelphia still leads the region in such deaths, surging past a record 900 last year, more than triple the number of homicides.
“We used to say we were losing 10 Pennsylvanians a day,” said Jennifer Smith, acting secretary of the state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. “That estimate may be pretty low at this point.” Gary Tuggle of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Philadelphia says, “I don’t think folks realize how bad this [epidemic] is. We’re in a tough pickle. And we expect the numbers to keep rising.” The opioid crisis was fueled by prescription drugs as pharmaceutical companies heavily marketed the remedies for undertreated pain and doctors responded by pulling out their prescription pads. Over time, drug abusers trying to avoid the pain of withdrawal sometimes switch to using heroin, which is cheaper and easier to find, but far deadlier. Magnifying the effect: Dealers are juicing up their heroin with fentanyl, Tuggle said.