Share This Page

Allegheny County confronted with fentanyl overdoses

| Saturday, June 29, 2013, 10:36 p.m.

More than half of the 50 deaths statewide this year from a potent prescription narcotic that can be mistaken for heroin occurred in Western Pennsylvania, according to authorities.

The state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs issued a warning last week about the drug fentanyl and its derivative, acetyl fentanyl, which has led to 32 deaths in the region.

Allegheny County had the most with 15, followed by Washington County with six. Indiana and Cambria counties each had three deaths, Erie County had two, and Beaver, Butler and Westmoreland, one each.

Deaths were reported in 10 other counties, and state health officials are awaiting the results of toxicology reports from several other counties.

“As a recreational drug, fentanyl can often resemble heroin. It has the same consistency, color and packaging but is much more potent,” said Christine Cronkright, a spokeswoman for the governor's office.

“If a heroin user unknowingly mistakes fentanyl for heroin and takes too much of the drug, the user is at high risk for a fatal overdose,” she said.

After confirming five recent fentanyl overdoses in Lebanon County, including one that was fatal, the department last week asked coroners and medical examiners to begin screening for the drug in all deaths that appear to be the result of heroin or other opiates, Cronkright said.

Fentanyl is commonly prescribed to cancer patients to alleviate chronic pain and is estimated to be 80 times more potent than morphine and hundreds of times more potent than heroin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Tony LaRussa is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.