• Officials see dramatic, unexpected drop in local overdose deaths


    PITTSBURGH - Experts are seeing a dramatic and unexpected drop in overdose deaths in Allegheny County.

    According to Overdose Free PA, overdose deaths dropped around 60 percent last year, compared to 2017.

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    The final numbers for 2018 are still being calculated, but the Allegheny County Medical Examiner Dr. Karl Williams expects the drop will still be significant.

    “I wouldn't necessarily call it a miracle, but it has been really stunning,” he said. It's been stunning to everybody involved.”


    And it’s not just in Allegheny County. Over that same timeframe, overdose deaths in Butler County are down 56 percent and Westmoreland County has seen a 47 percent drop.

    Paramedics with Pittsburgh EMS say they’re responding to fewer calls for overdoses.

    “That number is way down; we can decompress the system now,” said Mark Pinchalk, Pittsburgh EMS Division Chief. “It's lowered our call volume a little bit. People are a little better rested and we're not forced to pull in assets from the rest of the county nearly as much as we used to.”

    He said resources and paramedics were strained as recently as 18 months ago.

    “It was really tapping out our system,” Pinchalk said. “We were getting clusters within 30 minutes, six or seven overdoses at the same time. It really tied up our response capability.”

    Last year, Pittsburgh EMS started a Narcan leave-behind program for users, along with information on how to get help.

    It was used by dozens of victims.

    What's led to the drop remains unclear, allthough Williams believes a combination of more Narcan, more resources and a better understanding of the epidemic all contributed.

    Still, he warns more work needs to be done to keep overdose deaths from spiking again.

    “It's very, very hard to study and it always has been,” he said. “We just need to keep looking at all of the variables and see if we can tease them out and find out.”

    The number of overdose deaths for 2018 is still being finalized, so they will likely be slightly higher than what Overdose Free PA is currently tracking.


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