GREENSBURG (KDKA) — It’s claiming more lives than murder, cars accidents and suicides combined, and the national opioid epidemic continues to hit home in our region with fatal overdoses continuing to climb in records numbers.
In Allegheny County, those fatalities rose from 650 in 2016 to 716 in 2017, nearly two deaths every day. In Westmoreland County, they took 174 lives in 2016 and another 195 last year.
For Westmoreland County Coroner Ken Bacha, the toll is personal.
“The devastation is hard to describe because it’s not just a case number or somebody’s name on a paper,” he says. “It’s been people that I know, or their kids, their parents, family, friends.”
But even amid the carnage, there may be some light.
In the six county region of Allegheny, Butler, Beaver, Washington, Greene and Westmoreland, the numbers jumped from 1,129 fatal ODs to 1,185, but within those grim tallies, there is a glimmer of hope.
The rate of increase is leveling off and the numbers actually decreased in three of those counties. In Beaver from 102 to 82, in Washington, from 109 to 97, and in Greene from 20 to 13.
“Cautiously optimistic that the efforts that have been put in place are starting to work,” Bacha said.
Bacha and other coroners say the fatal ODs trailed off toward the end of 2017, and that they’re not seeing as many so far this year.
They attribute this to several factors, including the life-saving drug Narcan, which is being administered on the front lines by paramedics and other first-responders.
But also the drug counseling outreach efforts in counties like Washington, where so-called care navigators visit addicts at their homes, apprising them of the expanding number of treatment options.
And, just generally, the rising public awareness that opioids, laced with the lethal synthetic drug fentanyl, can kill you with just one shot.
Bacha says, “149 out of those 193 deaths had fentanyl, some type of fentanyl in them.”
For the first time in years, Bacha believes opioid deaths may have peaked.
“Hopefully, we’ve hit that plateau and we’re starting to go down the other way,” he said.