Overdose death numbers from last year fall nearly 20 percent

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By Kate Malongowski

They’re a few among the 82 Beaver County residents who died from a drug overdose last year, according to the Beaver County Coroner’s office. It’s an encouraging number to some local leaders, being that it’s 20 fewer deaths than the year before, but there’s still a long way to go.

The availability of the opioid reversal drug naloxone has provided a reduction in the loss of life, along with new programs that have begun in Beaver County that provide addiction treatment to individuals, leaders say.

“This past year, our county has worked really, really hard to be even more responsive to overdose survivors and to get them into care quicker, and to leverage the criminal justice system in a creative and appropriate way to try to motivate people to get into treatment when they’re at their highest risk of death,” said Kate Lowery, of Beaver County Behavioral Health.

Ongoing programs have been providing naloxone to schools, nonprofits, law enforcement, and other businesses, and establishing several drug take-back boxes around the county, where people can safely deposit leftover prescription drug medications. Newly established programs include countywide and municipal drug diversion programs in Beaver Falls, Aliquippa and Hopewell, which give those facing certain drug-related criminal charges the option to receive drug treatment if they successfully complete the program instead of jail time and legal fees.

“The change is due to naloxone, but also due to education. We’ve had countless programs … at the schools,” said David Lozier, Beaver County district attorney, referring to county behavioral health and coroner’s offices, along with local police departments. “We’ve all been going out to as many different community groups and schools as we can, daytime and nighttime, and giving talks to educate the community on the overdoses.”

He has also pushed several drug delivery resulting in death charges since he took office in 2016. He said he believes that could have played a role in the decrease in drug dealers pedaling the dangerous synthetic opioid fentanyl and heroin, and instead opting to push other drugs more.

While the number of overdose deaths have declined, the number of 911 overdose calls jumped more than 40 percent between 2016 to 2017, from 542 to 758 calls.

“Some dealers are going away from fentanyl and heroin and they’re pushing cocaine again. So I think that resulted in more overdoses, but maybe fewer deaths,” Lozier said.

 

The number of drug-related overdoses in Beaver County has climbed rapidly in the past six years. However, after a spike in 2016, the number of deaths from drug overdoses dipped last year.

According to statistics from the OverdoseFreePA website, which collects overdose statistics around the state, fentanyl remained the leading cause of drug overdose death in Beaver County last year. That’s based on the 78 deaths that were analyzed on the website as of Monday.

The next most deadly drugs were cocaine, attributing to at least 37 deaths, alprazolam, known by its brand name Xanax, contributing to at least 21 deaths, and heroin attributing to at least 20 deaths. Many who die from an overdose have a combination of drugs in their system.

Beaver County Coroner David Gabauer said law enforcement officers have saved lives, too.

“I want to credit law enforcement for this decrease, all (their) time and effort in making Beaver County a better place to live and raise a family,” Gabauer said.

By continuing to do the work they’re doing, Lozier said they hope to further reduce 911 overdose calls and overdose deaths going forward.

Overdose death numbers from 2012 to 2015 were tracked by a prior coroner, and had fluctuated between approximately 20 to 40 deaths during those years.

“If we get it back down to old numbers,” Lozier said, “that would be wonderful.”