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Opioid crisis: Drugs increasingly ravaging communities across Allegheny County

Renatta Signorini
| Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017, 12:18 p.m.
Dr. Karen Hacker, director of the Allegheny County Health Department, listens to lectures at The  McGinley-Rice Symposium at Duquesne University on Thursday, October 26, 2017.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Dr. Karen Hacker, director of the Allegheny County Health Department, listens to lectures at The McGinley-Rice Symposium at Duquesne University on Thursday, October 26, 2017.
Allegheny County Health Department Director Dr. Karen Hacker
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
Allegheny County Health Department Director Dr. Karen Hacker
File photo of Allegheny County Health Department Executive Director Dr. Karen Hacker
Tribune-Review
File photo of Allegheny County Health Department Executive Director Dr. Karen Hacker
Dr. Jonathan Han, medical director at the New Kensington Family Health Center, addresses the audience at The  McGinley-Rice Symposium at Duquesne University, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Dr. Jonathan Han, medical director at the New Kensington Family Health Center, addresses the audience at The McGinley-Rice Symposium at Duquesne University, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017.

Drug overdose deaths have deluged Allegheny County communities that historically have not been considered high-crime or impoverished areas, Dr. Karen Hacker, the health department director, said Thursday.

Officials have seen a shift toward increasing deaths in Shaler, Etna, Millvale and other areas since 2014, Hacker told about 100 participants at a two-day conference at Duquesne University focused on the opioid crisis.

“This happens to be an epidemic that seems to be disproportionately impacting ... white males,” Hacker said during the McGinley-Rice Symposium on Social Justice for Vulnerable Populations titled “The Face of the Person with an Addiction.”

Hacker discussed what Allegheny County officials have seen over the last several years as far as numbers of deaths, how the epidemic began, how it is being addressed and the types of drugs people use.

Allegheny County saw 650 drug overdose deaths in 2016, up from 424 in 2015, records show.

Drug users have a high risk of overdose in three instances — when they leave the Allegheny County Jail, mental health treatment and substance abuse treatment.

“The risk of being sober and then overdosing is exceptionally high in those first 30 days,” she said.

While officials know about the overdose deaths, they don't always know when someone survives an overdose, she said.

“A lot of people who overdose are never coming to our attention,” she said, because family or friends may revive them at their home and not call for help.

Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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