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Allegheny Co. Medical Examiner Weighs In On Opioid Epidemic

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- More than 4,600 people in Pennsylvania died from overdoses last year.

Some of the largest increases were in rural counties. All those cases are putting a strain on the medical examiner's office.

Karl Williams, the chief medical examiner of Allegheny County, weighed in on the overdose epidemic.

The numbers are devastating in Allegheny County and around the country.

"We had 640 overdose last year, up from 300 two years ago," Williams said. "We've doubled the number of overdoses."

And they continue to climb every year.

"It's the greatest public health crisis of our generation," Williams said.

There's hardly a family anywhere that hasn't been somehow affected by the opioid epidemic, and medical officials say the pattern of abuse is changing for the worse.

"A younger age group is going directly to these drugs without intervening addiction to heroin or prescription drugs," Williams said.

Williams says virtually all fentanyl is coming from China through Mexico, and users have no way of knowing just what combination of drugs is in a stamp bag when they buy it.

"We have an increasing number of cases in young people, less than 20, that snort a powder, having no idea what it is," Williams said, "then they're dead, and it's fentanyl."

Williams says the idea of using drugs has become more acceptable and addiction needs to be treated as a disease, with education starting as early as grade school.

"It's a disease, and it needs to be approached as a disease in terms of early diagnosis.

treated as such with early intervention," he said. "Children's Hospital Pittsburgh is starting to carry knowledge about it into grade schools. It needs to start extraordinarily young."

And with the increase in addiction and deaths comes a stretching of resources.

"We are pushing the load for pathologists, pushing the load for toxicologists, pushing the load for drug chemists that look at all of the seizures," Williams said. "Everything is being stressed in the office."

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