The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has been experiencing an epidemic of opioid drug abuse and opioid-related overdose deaths. In 2016, more than 4600 Pennsylvanians died as a result of drug abuse and thousands more were affected by addiction, either personally or through loved ones and acquaintances.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the amount of prescription opioids sold in the United States has quadrupled since 1999. Health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for painkillers in 2012, enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills. Eighty percent (80%) of heroin users reported nonmedical use of prescription opioids.
Several key findings listed in a Joint Intelligence Report released July, 2017 by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Philadelphia Division, and the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Pharmacy, Technical Assistance Center, (Analysis of Overdose Deaths in Pennsylvania, 2016), are noted below:
- Pennsylvania coroners reported an increase of 37% more drug-related overdose deaths from 2015 to 2016. In 2016, approximately thirteen (13) people died of a drug-related overdose each day.
- In 2016, 78% of Pennsylvania counties had an overdose death rate higher than the national average. The national average is 16.3 deaths per 100,000 residents. Pennsylvania’s average is 36.5 deaths per 100,000.
- Coroners reported Fentanyl and Fentanyl-related substances were the most frequently identified in overdose deaths. Heroin was the second most frequently identified substance, followed by benzodiazepines, cocaine, and prescription opioids.
- In 2016, the largest increase in drug-related overdose deaths occurred in Pennsylvania’s rural counties compared to urban counties.
- During 2016, 70% of drug-related overdose decedents were male.
- In 2016, 30% of drug-related overdose deaths occurred in the 25-34 year old age group.
- In the 75+ age group, prescription opioids were the leading cause of drug-related overdose deaths.
Northumberland County has been affected by this epidemic. During 2016, Northumberland ranked 27th out of 67 counties for having the most overdose deaths per 100,000 people in the county. This ranking was a significant increase from 2015 when Northumberland was listed as 41. During 2016, Northumberland’s drug-related overdose death rate was 28.6 per 100,000 residents. Twenty-seven (27) Northumberland County residents died as a result of an overdose during 2016.