Statewide Overdose Report Highlights Link Between Prescription Drug And Heroin Abuse

Dec 25, 2015

A new statewide drug overdose report by the DEA points to the correlation between prescription drug use and heroin use. Law enforcement officials say they hope educating people on the link will help lower overdose numbers.
Credit Frankleleon / Flickr

A new report – the first of its kind in Pennsylvania – which looked at drug overdose totals for 62 counties, highlights the problem of prescription drug and heroin abuse. 

“What’s most notable about this report is the amount of overdose deaths that are attributable to prescription drugs and heroin,” said Drug Enforcement Agency Special Agent Patrick Trainor. “That’s where you’re seeing the most significant numbers.”

The report lists 2,497 drug overdose deaths last year in the 62 counties that reported to the DEA. Five counties did not report overdose numbers. In Allegheny County, a total 307 overdose deaths were reported. Of that, 191 were caused by heroin, 75 by cocaine and one by methamphetamine, according to Trainor.

The uptick in heroin use, a trend reflected nationwide, is caused in part by prescription drug use, said Trainor. He explained opioid drugs, used as painkillers, can become addicting to its users. These drugs are expensive, costing upwards of $50 per pill. Whereas heroin, which has the same pain-relieving effects, can be purchased on the street for around $10.

He said that heroin is especially dangerous because it is often mixed or “cut” with other harmful substances like Fentanyl.

“There’s no quality control with heroin,” Trainor said. “There’s no ‘good batch’ of heroin as it were, and people are dying.”

Trainor said that the report was created to aid Pennsylvania counties in the fight against the opioid epidemic.

“The amount of overdose death we’ve seen in Pennsylvania has really increased quite significantly over the past few years,” he said. “These counties can use [the report] as a resource to … bring this problem to light, but also to get some resources for funding for drug treatment.”

Pittsburgh’s DEA is changing its strategy for fighting overdoses with a new program called the “360 Strategy,” which will educate medical practitioners and community groups about the link between prescription drug use and heroin abuse.

“[The DEA] arrests the biggest and the baddest drug dealers out there and, quite frankly, we’re good at it,” Trainor said. “But we also realize that can’t arrest our way out of this problem.”

The full text of the DEA report can be found here.