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Drug Overdose Deaths In Pennsylvania Reach An All-Time High

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Drug overdose deaths in Pennsylvania are at an all-time high.

In Allegheny County alone, 610 people died of drug overdoses in 2016, an increase from the 2015 number of 524. 95 percent of the cases involved heroin or fentanyl.

Of the deceased, 85 percent of the victims are white, 63 percent are male and most of them are relatively young -- between the ages of 25 and 54.

"This rise is fueled by the opioid class of drugs, and follows a pattern seen throughout the larger Appalachian and Midwest regions," said Dr. Karl E. Williams, Allegheny County Medical Examiner. "For the past several years, we have seen a progressive increase in the contribution of fentanyl. In 2016, for the first time, fentanyl occurs more frequently than heroin in the multidrug mixtures typically seen in these overdoses."

Dr. Williams noted that overdoses almost always involved more than one drug and that, in addition to the complex mixtures, there are still ongoing problems with alcohol, prescription medications, and the benzodiazepine class of drugs, in particular, Alprazolam.

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Nearly 5,700 people were treated for overdoses at local emergency rooms, and paramedics used 2,300 doses of naloxone to revive overdose victims.

The epidemic is evident in surrounding counties too.

Last year, 174 people died of overdoses in Westmoreland County, 109 died in Washington County, 101 died in Beaver County and 73 died in Butler County.

Casey Schwartzmier's life ended in January of a fatal overdose.

"She said, 'I want to live, I want a better life, I don't want to do this anymore.' She said 'I just can't stop,'" mother Michelle Schwartzmier said. "My family will never be the same, her friends are devastated."

The Department of Human Services continues to work with partner agencies to provide drug and alcohol services for adults.

For those in need of immediate help due to a drug or alcohol related crisis, the Pennsylvania Department of Drug & Alcohol Programs (DDAP) Crisis Hotline is staffed 24/7 by persons who providing screening and referrals immediately:  1-800-662-HELP (4357). For those with drug or alcohol related concerns, contact re:solve Crisis Network at 1-888-796-8226 (1-888-7 YOU CAN).

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