PA Drug OD Deaths Rose ‘Stunning’ 37% Last Year

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Across Pennsylvania, drug overdose deaths rose by a stunning 37 percent last year, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration announced yesterday. All told, 13 people died every day of a drug overdose in Pennsylvania, sending the state’s 2016 death toll to a record high, Philly.com reports. Appalling as the Philadelphia numbers were — 907 deaths in the city alone — fatality rates in some suburban counties and parts of Western Pennsylvania rose much faster. “The numbers are horrific. Absolutely horrific,” said the DEA’s Patrick Trainor. “It’s really bad.”  At 4,642, the total number of fatal overdoses in Pennsylvania was nearly four times the number of fatal traffic accidents. Prescription or illicit opioids such as heroin were implicated in 85 percent of the drug fatalities.

The data, collected from coroners and medical examiners from across the state, were compiled by the DEA and analyzed with assistance from the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Pharmacy. Gary Tuggle, head of the local DEA division, called the data evidence of  “an unprecedented epidemic of drug abuse.” He said, “We know that the prescription opioid and heroin epidemic is not limited to inner-city neighborhoods, such as the crack-cocaine epidemic of the 1980s largely was.” Cases involving fentanyl — the extraordinarily potent synthetic opioid sometimes added to heroin without the users’ knowledge — rose dramatically.  “For the first time, in Allegheny County fentanyl was found in more people than heroin,” said Jeanine Buchanich of Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health. She said that fentanyl was found in about two-thirds of drug fatalities there and heroin in about half (many cases included both drugs).

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