Heroin Taking It’s Toll With Overdoses

Pennsylvania is a place where the heroin is strong, and the winter nights are bitter and can kill you, if the heroin doesn’t get you first.

nalaxone kitIt took tragedy for Allegheny County Health Department Director Karen Hacker to issue a standing order allowing participating pharmacies to dispense naloxone without a prescription to prevent drug-overdose deaths. Here is what preceded the order;

A woman heading to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting Sunday collapsed and lay unconscious in a Canonsburg parking lot after a heroin overdose. She was one of 17 overdoses that day in Washington County that may have caused as many as three deaths.

Canonsburg police, equipped with the opioid antidote naloxone, known as Narcan, used the nasal spray to revive the woman in a matter of seconds, Canonsburg Chief Alex Coghill said. Borough police also responded to a second call in neighboring Houston, where emergency medical officials already were on the scene. Naloxone again was used to revive the victim.

In addition to the cases in Canonsburg and Houston, eight overdoses occurred in Washington, Pa., with another in Donora, where the person also was treated with naloxone.

“This is a significant increase in overdose calls over a 24-hour period,” Washington County Public Safety Director Jeff Yates said Monday following a meeting with county Coroner Timothy Warco, District Attorney Eugene Vittone and state police. Mr. Yates said what occurred in the county reflects the national heroin-overdose epidemic.

On Monday, the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy announced it would spend $13.4 million on a program targeting high-intensity drug-trafficking areas, especially in New England and Appalachia, the northeast corridor between New York and Washington, D.C., and on the southern U.S. border, Bloomberg news reported. The goal is to plot drug-trafficking routes and help public health agencies and paramedics to stem overdose deaths.

For 2013, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 8,257 heroin deaths, with 6,525 of those involving men. The Northeast and Midwest have reported particularly high rates of heroin-overdose deaths per 100,000 people.

The Allegheny County medical examiner’s office is analyzing drug samples from Washington County, Chief Coghill said, to determine whether adulterated heroin is responsible for the multiple overdoses and potential deaths, much the way heroin laced with fentanyl last year was linked to 22 overdose deaths in Allegheny County and three other counties in the region. The highly potent synthetic opioid with amplified potency can lead to overdoses and quick death.

While the type of heroin involved in the overdoses is yet unknown, the large number of overdoses in one day, Chief Coghill said, makes it likely that an adulterated form was used.

Mr. Warco indicated in a news release that he’s investigating the cause or causes of the three deaths. The names of the deceased were not released Monday.

The one positive aspect of the epidemic of overdoses was that three people were treated with naloxone Sunday and survived, raising the total this year to six in Washington County.

“We were the first police department [in the county] to equip our officers with Narcan because we knew this day would come,” Chief Coghill said. His officers arrived in the parking lot to find the unconscious woman with a pulse but clearly in a medical emergency.

In a release, Mr. Vittone said he began a program to distribute naloxone to local police and medical officials with money forfeited under court order from drug dealers.

“This is part of a multi-faceted project to rein in the epidemic,” he stated. “To date we’ve saved six lives. The only way to rid our communities of this scourge is to prosecute drug dealers who are poisoning our communities.”

After the naloxone kits were offer free, 6 of them were dispensed within the next 7 weeks.

August 26, 2015


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

4 + 6 =