When surging drug overdose deaths finally prompted Pennsylvania state legislation last year, many policymakers warned that there would be no immediate reversal of the trend. That has proved true, at least in Pittsburgh’s Allegheny County and likely statewide, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The county medical examiner says 613 people died from drugs last year, a jump of 44 percent over the prior year, largely due to fentanyl and heroin. “I would say my heart aches,” said county Health Department Director Karen Hacker. “We’ve been deeply involved in this issue. … It just feels like you get this new drug on the market, and you’re just chasing it. We’re just not able to get ahead of it.”
The overdose numbers “don’t surprise me,” said Gov. Tom Wolf. Statewide overdose numbers may not be final until June. Wolf believes they will reflect similarly rising drug deaths. The 2015 fatal overdose total of 424 in Allegheny County — and 3,383 statewide — shocked many. Last year’s much higher county total is nearly three times the 2010 overdose toll. That was before prescription painkillers broadened the market for heroin, and dealers began spiking their drugs with fentanyl. Most heroin sold on the streets now contains some fentanyl. Some bags now contain mostly fentanyl, which can be 100 times stronger than heroin. “Fentanyl is like a whole new ballgame,” Hacker said. “People are dying the first time they try it.” Fentanyl was present in more than 60 percent of last year’s overdose victims in Allegheny County, heroin in more than 50 percent, and oxycodone in 10 percent. Many bodies tested positive for multiple drugs.