Allegheny County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Karl Williams has found para-fluorofentanyl in the bodies of 75 people who've overdosed in the county.By Andy Sheehan

ALLEGHENY COUNTY (KDKA) — The opioid epidemic has ravaged the region, with fatal overdoses again reaching record numbers.

Adding to the danger is a new drug, a new form of fentanyl called para-fluorofentanyl — mixed in with batches of what’s supposed to be heroin.

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So far this year, Allegheny County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Karl Williams has found para-fluorofentanyl in the bodies of 75 people who’ve overdosed in the county — up from zero last year. Dr. Williams said people are playing a deadly game of Russian Roulette every time they buy drugs off the street.

“I don’t know if it’s sold to them as para-fluoro or sold to them as fentanyl. It’s not a regulated industry, obviously, in any sense of the word. It’s just the Wild West out there,” he said

Dr. Williams doesn’t know if para-fluorofentanyl is more powerful than other forms of fentanyl, but he said any form is extremely dangerous. It is 10 times the strength of heroin.

KDKA’s Andy Sheehan: Are you alarmed when you see 75 people dead with this para-fluorofentanyl?

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Williams: I’m alarmed more by just the general trend of complete overdoses of all the mixture of drugs.

After rising to a record of 737 deadly overdoses in 2017, Allegheny County saw that number decrease the following year with the increased availability of Narcan. But the deaths started to climb again — 571 in 2019 and 690 last year — increases that recovery advocates trace to the COVID-19 pandemic.

And those numbers would likely be even higher if not for the actions of EMTs and paramedics. During the summer, Pittsburgh EMS averaged more than 100 Narcan reversals a month. But Jennifer Bloodworth of the Onala Recovery Center said treatment is available, and she’s hopeful the trend can be reversed with signs of the pandemic lifting.

“I know recovery is possible. I know these are individuals who are sick and a lot of them want to get better. And as long as that is there, there’s hope,” she said.

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Bloodworth also points to the now legal availability of fentanyl detection strips, which can detect whether fentanyl is present in a stamp bag. But she said the real hope is that people who are addicted get into recovery.