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00000176-e6f7-dce8-adff-f6f770410000PublicSource is an independent, nonprofit news group that focuses on original investigative reporting about critical issues facing Pittsburgh and the Western Pennsylvania region. It was launched to undertake in-depth reporting in the public interest.PublicSource is a content partner of 90.5 WESA.More about PublicSource here.

How Accurate Are State Heroin Overdose Statistics?

Ben Allen

Heroin abuse has reached crisis levels in the commonwealth and across the Northeast.

But determining the full scope of the problem is proving harder than one might think.

Without a single standard in Pennsylvania, the state's 67 county coroners and medical examiners operate under their own individual set of rules to determine if a drug overdose was caused by heroin.

"Well, I would be looking for this, what we call 6 mam or monoacetylmorphine. It's a metabolite that is found in heroin," said Dauphin County Coroner Graham Hetrick, explaining how his office decides when a death can actually be called a heroin overdose.

A typical toxicology report will list "positive findings," which coroners and medical examiners then use in making a cause-of-death determination.

The toxicology report is just one piece that goes into making a final ruling. Hetrick’s staff also looks at physical evidence that might be found during the investigation.

"We take all drugs that are at the scene; you'll see the pill counter over there," Hetrick said. "We many times see heroin packets in the house ... they actually have stamps on them many times, and so we'll try to figure out and document that."

Read more of this report at the website of our partner PublicSource.