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Excela Health ERs in Westmoreland treat 400 drug ODs in 2012

| Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Excela Health treated nearly 400 cases of near-fatal drug overdoses last year, including 93 involving heroin, according to hospital officials.

The majority of the cases involved other opiate-based drugs, including prescription medications, such as oxycodone, opiates, methadone, cocaine, methamphetamine, sedatives and antidepressants, said Jennifer Miele, vice president of marketing and communications.

Miele said the statistics don't represent 400 people who were treated for acute drug poisoning because some patients were treated more than once in emergency rooms in its hospitals in Greensburg, Latrobe and Mt. Pleasant.

Miele said Excela Health Westmoreland treated 60 heroin overdoses; Latrobe Area Hospital treated 22; and Frick, 11.

Dr. Christopher Clarkson, an emergency room physician who has treated drug overdose patients at the Greensburg hospital, said most heroin users brought to the emergency room are in their 20s and 30s.

“I don't think there's really any socioeconomic barriers,” Clarkson said. “Heroin seems to be everywhere — young kids from good families. It's hard to tell who it's affecting. We definitely see it from people with normal, good upbringing.

“You see them in all phases of addiction. The drug is very addictive,” he said.

The first line of defense in saving a person from an overdose is paramedics who respond to an emergency call, Clarkson said. If the person is unresponsive or not breathing, they will resuscitate the patient, then administer Narcan, a drug that immediately reverses the effects of heroin, before the ambulance reaches the hospital.

Not everyone can be revived, Clarkson said.

“Sometimes, people come out of it, and sometimes they don't,” he said.

Patients who have survived an overdose are offered information on where to get inpatient or outpatient treatment, Clarkson said. But the patient has to want the help, he said.

Often a patient will not answer a physician's questions about drug use or the amount of drugs used.

“A lot of people aren't very forthcoming,” Clarkson said.

In 2012, Westmoreland County had 71 confirmed drug overdose deaths, a record. That number could go higher after toxicology test are completed in 14 more cases.

Coroner Ken Bacha said his office has investigated 16 overdose deaths this year, including five deaths in a 2 12-day span this week.

Emergency room visits for the treatment of heroin overdoses are becoming epidemic nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control. About 15,000 people die every year from drug overdoses.

In 2008, emergency room visits for heroin overdoses reached 201,000 nationally. Opiate overdoses resulted in 1 million hospital visits, according to the CDC.

Pennsylvania ranks 10th in the United States in the number of overdose deaths.

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or rgazarik@tribweb.com.

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