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Led by fentanyl, Pennsylvania overdose deaths surge

Bucks County overdose deaths, last 12 months (Bucks County District Attorney)

The deadly effects of the opioid epidemic continued to explode last year in Pennsylvania, statistics reported Tuesday by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) indicate.

In 2017, 5,456 drug-related overdose deaths were reported by coroners and medical examiners in the state, according to Jon Wilson, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s Philadelphia Field Division. The number represents a rate of 42 deaths per 100,000 people and a 64% increase in overdose deaths from 2015 to 2017.

In Bucks County, there were 231 overdose deaths last year, according to OverdoseFreePA. The Bucks County District Attorney says there were 757 reported opioid overdoses in the last 12 months, and police have saved 588 lives since 2015.

The DEA Philadelphia Field Division will be releasing a report next month entitled “The Opioid Threat in Pennsylvania.” Among its key findings: heroin sourced from Mexican cartels presents a “persistent and pervasive drug threat” in Pennsylvania, and the danger is being magnified by the unprecedented proliferation of clandestinely-produced fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances.

Fentanyl is the drug found most often in ODs. (Source: OverdoseFreePA)

In fact, the presence of fentanyl was noted in more than 67% of drug-related overdose deaths in Pennsylvania in 2017, according to the report, rising almost 400% from 2015 to 2017, with 17 distinct fentanyl-related substances detected in overdose deaths.

Fentanyl can be hundreds of times more potent than heroin. It’s used orally, smoked, snorted, or injected. Often sold as heroin, compressed into pills to resemble oxycodone, or mixed with cocaine, fentanyl is the drug that killed Prince. It’s been around since the 1960s, and because it’s incredibly potent, fentanyl is a boon to cancer patients, who are typically prescribed patches or lozenges. But that incredible potency is also what’s causing all the overdoses.

Fatal and non-fatal ODs in Bucks, last 12 months. (Bucks County DA)

Most of the drug is being manufactured in China, then trafficked by Mexican cartels into the U.S. Often, it’s simply ordered on the internet and sent straight from China to the buyer’s mailbox.

“The Opioid Threat in Pennsylvania” was prepared in conjunction with the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy’s Program Evaluation Research Unit, Pennsylvania Opioid Overdose Reduction Technical Assistance Center (TAC). It presents a comprehensive assessment of the opioid crisis in Pennsylvania through collection and analysis of supply and demand indicators and intelligence, as well as detailed county level analysis of multiple opioid misuse data sources.

About the author

Charlie Sahner

“Once you can accept the universe as matter expanding into nothing that is something, wearing stripes with plaid comes easy." - Einstein

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