PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Fewer people are dying from overdoses in Allegheny County, officials say.
There were 432 accidental overdose deaths in 2018 — a 41% reduction from the previous year, which saw 737 of such deaths, the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s office said Tuesday.
It’s also the lowest number of overdose deaths in the past three years.
Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Karl Williams credited the reduction to the availability of the opioid reversal drug naloxone and county departments working together to form an opioid response team.
“The sharp decline in overdose deaths in 2018 is a pleasant and largely unexpected event,” Williams said. “Although the increased availability to naloxone certainly played a large role, the importance of collaborative efforts among the various county agencies cannot be underestimated.”
The medical examiner’s office, the health department, the police and the jail are among those agencies that comprise the response team. They meet each month to update each other on their department’s efforts to address the issue.
For example, the health department distributed over 8,000 naloxone kits and trained over 2,000 people on how to administer the opioid reversal drug last year, according to the medical examiner.
The medical examiner said that the county jail has worked to combat the issue by identifying addiction in inmates during their intake process and hiring a detox nurse to help those patients. Inmates who are nearing release are also trained to safely administer naloxone.
Despite these efforts, the medical examiner said the data on overdose deaths from 2018 reflect those of previous years: they are most often caused by a mixture of drugs, fentanyl remains the most common drug found in such mixtures and white males are the most affected group.
In addition, the medical examiner expressed a need for more treatment beds for those struggling with addiction, as well as better communication among treatment centers to identify where there are vacancies.