Opioid overdoses epidemic here, county medical examiner says
February 6, 2016 12:00 AM
Michael Snyder/Cincinnati Enquirer
OxyContin pills are shown in this February 2001 file photo.
By Dan Majors / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s office on Friday labeled opioids — which include illegal drugs such as heroin and prescription medications such as oxycodone, methadone and fentanyl — as the most significant component of overdose deaths in 2015.
Of the 246 opioid overdose deaths in the county last year, heroin was found in 209 cases, fentanyl in 99 and alpha-Methylfentanyl in 20 cases. The totals exceed 246 because some victims had multiple drugs in their system.
“The most widely found opioids were heroin and different forms of fentanyl, and they are usually in various combinations,” said Allegheny County Medical Examiner Karl Williams. “There is no evidence that this epidemic is abating, and efforts to address the problem are ongoing at the local, state and federal levels.”
The increase in heroin-related deaths in Allegheny County began in 2010, when 50 cases were found with the drug, Dr. Williams said in a county news release.
“The increase in fentanyl is a newer phenomenon,” he said. “There were eight deaths in which fentanyl was found in 2013, as opposed to 99 in 2015. In 2013, the fentanyl was almost exclusively from diverted pharmaceutical drugs, such as the fentanyl patch, whereas now its source appears to be illicit manufacturing.”
“The opioid crisis has claimed far too many lives,” said Karen Hacker, director of the Allegheny County Health Department. “We are and will continue to use multiple strategies to decrease addiction to and overdose from opioids in our county. I encourage those impacted by addiction to seek treatment and remind all of the availability of naloxone.”
Naloxone is a medication that can reverse an overdose that is caused by an opioid drug.
U.S. Attorney David Hickton this week announced that law agencies in the region are monitoring overdoses and launching investigations with multiple resources.
“We have to move faster,” he said Wednesday. “We need to treat every overdose as an investigation.”
The county’s Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services provides a variety of substance abuse assessment, treatment and recovery services. Assistance is available by calling 412-350-3328 during regular business hours. Individuals who may need immediate detoxification should go to an emergency room.
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