Officials: Allegheny County overdose deaths dropped significantly last year
Accidental overdose deaths in Allegheny County dropped 41% last year, according to the medical examiner’s office.
Accidental overdoses claimed 432 people in 2018 compared to 737 in 2017, according to county data. This marks the fewest deaths over the past three years. In 2016, 650 people died from an overdose.
“While we have a lot more work to do, the 41% reduction in deaths reflects that we are moving in the right direction,” Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said in a statement Tuesday.
While the number of overdose deaths declined, the demographics hardest hit are similar to previous years with 68% of the victims being male and 94% white. The deaths largely come from the following age groups: 25 to 34; 35 to 44; and 45 to 54. These age groups account for nearly three in four deaths.
Fentanyl remains the most common drug mixture, followed by heroin and cocaine.
“The sharp decline in overdose deaths in 2018 is a pleasant and largely unexpected event,” Allegheny County Medical Examiner Dr. Karl Williams said in a statement.
Williams credited the availability of naloxone, which blocks the effects of opioids, especially with an overdose.
A 2014 state law allowed law enforcement, firefighters, EMS and other organizations to administer naloxone. In 2018, the county Health Department trained more than 2,000 people on administrating naloxone and distributed more than 8,000 naloxone kits.
County officials also attributed the declining deaths to better data collection, which wasn’t being done in several counties just five years ago.
“Opioid overdose deaths have taken so many lives and we mourn their loss,” Health Department Director Dr. Karen Hacker said in a statement. “We have worked hard to stem the tide of this deadly epidemic and seeing impact is rewarding; however, we know that we cannot take our feet off the gas.”’
Earlier in the year, the county health department had reported 379 overdoses in 2018, but then-pending toxicology tests pushed that number past 400.
The opioid epidemic began with the sharp rise of prescriptions in the early 1990s and a rapid increase in overdose deaths about a decade ago.