Pennsylvania Sees Drop In Overdose Deaths For First Time In Years

By Bryan Le 10/08/19

An analysis by the DEA found that in 2018, Pennsylvania saw an encouraging 18% drop in fatal overdoses.

hand drawing the decline in Pennsylvania

A new DEA report finds that the state of Pennsylvania saw an overall 18% drop in overdose deaths in 2018, the first drop after years of increasing rates.

Southwestern counties in Pennsylvania saw the most improvement, seeing a 41% reduction in fatal overdoses. Philadelphia, which had the highest fatal overdose rate in the state in 2017, saw improvements as well, resulting in having the second highest rate in 2018.

Numbers By County

However, the recovery wasn’t seen in all parts of the state. Eastern and central Pennsylvania endured some of the worst rates yet in the same time frame. In Schuylkill County, the overdose death rate jumped from 27 per 100,000 residents to 49 per 100,000 residents in 2018. Twenty three other counties also saw increases in fatal overdose rates, and three more saw no change.

The places that saw a reduction in fatal overdoses also saw an overall drop rate in overdoses in general. Officials aren’t sure exactly what led to this decrease, but it’s likely that the increase in distribution of naloxone and greater access to treatment played a major role. Most recently, a safe injection site was ruled federally legal by a judge against the wishes of the U.S. Justice Department.

The DEA report also provided some insight with statistical data. Most people who died of overdose were found to have more than one drug in their system. Around 87% had more than two drugs, 46% had more than four drugs, and 16% had six or more drugs in their body.

Fentanyl Sweeps Through The State

Fentanyl, which has exacerbated the opioid crisis across the nation, has not spared Pennsylvania. About 70% of all overdose deaths in the state involved the stuff. Fentanyl-adjacent drugs and other synthetic opioids were involved in 23% of deaths.

The report included demographic data, showing that 79% of deaths were white, 13% were Black, and 3% were Hispanic. While this may initially seem like white residents are disproportionately affected, the DEA notes that this is reflective of the demographics of the state’s population.

However, overdoses are disproportionately affecting younger residents, especially the presence of fentanyl. Among the 15-24 and 25-34 age groups, 75% of overdose deaths involved fentanyl.

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter