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Opioid Overdose Deaths Continue To Rise In Allegheny County

Rick Bowmer

The rate of overdose deaths in Allegheny County was up 22% in 2020, according to data released by the Medical Examiner and departments of Health and Human Services this week. There were 689 overdose deaths in 2020, up from 564 in 2019.

“We’re disheartened to see an increase in opioid overdose deaths last year,” said Erin Dalton, Director of Human Services. “Especially concerning is the disproportionately high rate of overdose deaths in our Black community and the continued effects of fentanyl on our region. The impact of the pandemic on social isolation and ability to seek and provide safe treatment can be felt in these latest data.”

While white males made up the majority of deaths at 61%, the report found that Black residents were disproportionately affected at 22%. Black residents make up 13% of Allegheny County’s population. Nearly three-quarters of deaths were among people ages 25 to 54.

The rate of overdose deaths in Allegheny County declined sharply from 2017 to 2018, thanks in part to the widespread availability of Narcan, according to the Medical Examiner’s office. But it has increased steadily in recent years. Since 2015, the Health Department has distributed 32,301 naloxone kits and held 253 trainings that equipped 10,585 people in the county to administer naloxone if needed.

Though opioid deaths are often the result of a mixture of drugs, fentanyl continues to be the most frequent drug found. It was the most frequently identified substance, followed by heroin and cocaine. At least one of the three substances was identified in 91% of deaths.

“A particularly troubling trend is the increasing appearance of methamphetamine and newer synthetic analogues of fentanyl and the benzodiazepine group of agents,” said Williams.

Methamphetamine was found in 8.6% of deaths compared to 5.4% in 2019.

So far in 2021, 117 people have died as a result of a drug overdose in Allegheny County.

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.