Pennsylvania takes ‘all hands on deck’ approach to opioid crisis

illicit drugs. Hispanics, Asians, and people of unknown race accounted for less than 1 percent in all age groups.

Counties in Pennsylvania with the three highest number of overdose deaths per 100,000 people included Philadelphia (45.93), Armstrong (43.25) and Cambria (42.52). President Trump won both Armstrong and Cambria counties in the general election last November.

Of the 3,500 overdose deaths reported in the state, toxicology reports revealed 1,735 showed a presence of an opioid including acetyl fentanyl, fentanyl, hydrocodone, methadone, oxycodone and tramadol. The opioid that showed the largest increase in prevalence was fentanyl, which had a 93 percent jump in 2015 over the year before. Acetyl fentanyl was of equal interest because it was found in toxicology reports for approximately 4 percent of the total number of fatal overdose victims. Although the number seems small, it’s relevant because acetyl fentanyl was not reported in any overdose deaths in 2014. The state has also seen its first overdoses related to carfentanil in the past two weeks, Levine said.

Curbing fatal opioid overdoses in Pennsylvania requires an inclusive, multi-pronged strategy focused on the supply and demand for these drugs, Levine said. “If the demand is sky high, then it’s almost impossible to cut the supply. So what we have to do in public health is work on the demand issue, and then [law enforcement] can do a better job at cutting off the supply.”

For those struggling with addiction in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, Levine emphasized that addiction is “a chronic, relapsing brain disease,” rather than a moral failing, and added that “it’s critical for us to instill hope in patients, for their families, for our communities, and for our commonwealth.”