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Gateway Rehab's New Medical Director Weighs In On CDC's Overdose Rate Report

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- A new report on overdose deaths released on Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control indicates more than 70,000 Americans died of overdoses in 2017.

That is higher than the number of people who die car crashes or by gun violence.

Gateway Rehab's new medical director has only been on the job a little over a month.

And, with a background in treatment and recovery, as well as emergency medicine, he says there are none sicker than those battling addictions.

"Unfortunately, the rates of addiction are still on the rise in this country," says Gateway Rehab's Dr. Jason Kirby.

On the rise, and a record, according a new report released by the CDC. It's something Dr. Kirby knows too well.

The CDC report ranks Pennsylvania, as well as West Virginia and Ohio, among the highest nationwide in overdose deaths. Pennsylvania had 44 deaths per every 100,000 people, while states like Texas had 10 overdose deaths per 100,000 people.

The reason is also opioids that are being mixed into every street drug.

"The rise in fentanyl. Fentanyl is a very big contributor to the overdose rate," Dr. Kirby said.

With a strength 50-times more powerful than heroine, fentanyl is at the root of the overdose rate reaching its record in 2017 at more than 70,000 deaths.

Also, in Pittsburgh, another reason is geography.

"When you look at Pittsburgh, strategically it's very strategically placed between two hubs, Chicago and New York, two major hubs in the drug trade," Dr. Kirby said.

Dr. Kirby says if it hasn't affected you personally, it will.

"If someone has not experienced the despair of watching a family member or friend having to struggle with this disease, they will," he says.

Dr. Kirby says every demographic has seen an uptick from teens to people in their 80s. He stresses the need for medicines like Narcan, an overdose reversal drug.

"It needs to be available, it is highly effective when used correctly when bringing people back from the brink of death," he said.

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