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Allegheny County Reports 564 Overdose Deaths in 2019
County’s Overdose Data to Action Program Continues Efforts with Partners


PITTSBURGH – Dr. Karl Williams, Chief Medical Examiner, reported today that the number of deaths from accidental overdoses during 2019 has been finalized. The 2019 number of 564 overdose deaths reflects an increase of 72 deaths over the final 2018 number of 492.

“The pattern of drugs seen in the county’s overdose deaths has remained consistent since 2016, when fentanyl surpassed heroin and became the most common agent found in the mixture of drugs causing the overdose,” said Williams. “Most cases have a mixture of drugs. Heroin, fentanyl and cocaine have remained the most common agents over these years with benzodiazepines and acetyl fentanyl remaining at the top of the list.”

The data from the 2019 deaths indicates that more males died of drug-related overdoses (66%) with 81% of decedents having been identified as white. The majority of cases (73%) fall into one of three age groups: 25-34, 35-44, and 45-54. As has also been seen previously, overdose deaths were almost always caused by a mixture of drugs. Fentanyl remains the drug found most commonly in these mixtures with heroin and cocaine rounding out the top three. The three zip codes with the most overdose deaths in the county: 15210, 15235 and 15212.

Since 2006, Allegheny County has experienced fatal opioid overdose rates higher than in many other areas of the country. A rapid increase of overdose deaths began in 2015, largely attributed to the presence of the synthetic drug fentanyl, which has been used to supplement heroin and other illicit drugs. Between 2014 and 2017, 90% of the overdose deaths were opioid related, over 600 in 2017 alone. As a result, Allegheny County created an internal Opioid Response Team consisting of the Medical Examiner’s Office, County Police, the Health Department (ACHD), Emergency Services, Human Services, and the Jail with support and guidance from the Manager’s Office and CountyStat.

“We must continue to work together to prevent deaths due to opioid overdose – these are primarily young adults – they are our children, grandchildren, friends and relatives,” said Dr. Debra Bogen, Director of the Allegheny County Health Department. “The surveillance efforts supported by the Overdose Data to Action grant help us to identify priority communities and/or populations that are at risk for overdose. But, most importantly, these data will inform the work of our community partners to target access to high-quality, evidence-based prevention and treatment programs and to work to destigmatize drug use so that everyone feels safe and supported to access services.”

Surveillance efforts to date have helped identify target populations and regions of the county and naloxone is proving effective at reducing death. Since 2015, the Health Department has distributed 22,222 naloxone kits, held 165 trainings that equipped nearly 7,000 people in the county to administer naloxone if needed. Overdose trends monitored by the Health Department since 2016 have shown that naloxone administered by EMS and suspected opioid emergency department visits began to increase again in August of 2019.

In response, the Health Department has created an Overdose Data to Action Program, part of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Overdose Data to Action Program. The effort is intended to address opioid overdose in the county through expansion of existing surveillance efforts, expansion of prevention efforts, improvement of linkages to care, building of new diversion programs, and the launch of a harm reduction communications campaign. The program was awarded funding from the CDC in 2019 and will receive $5.2 million a year for three years to support its efforts.

Further details on the overdose deaths in the county for 2019, and prior years, can be found on theOverdoseFreePA website: https://www.overdosefreepa.pitt.edu.



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