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Deaths due to drug overdose rose in Allegheny County by 5% in 2021. Why?

Jessica Hill

On today’s episode of The Confluence:

County Department of Human Services is looking to reduce rising overdose deaths
(0:00 - 7:08 )

The Allegheny County Medical Examiner reported last week that there were 719 fatal overdoses in the county in 2021, a 5% increase over the previous year. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, there were 5,319 overdose deaths statewide.

Dr. Karl Williams, the medical examiner, said 80% of the fatal overdoses involved multiple drugs. Maisha Howze, assistant deputy director for the Allegheny County Department of Human Services Office of Behavioral Health, says treating “polysubstances” can require a more complex solution, but ultimately comes down to addressing people where they are.

“We've increased our case management services, we've increased our youth-specific services, and we've also opened up a crisis center,” says Howze.

The county also opened the state’s first gender-specific treatment program in January, called the POWER Restore Program, which brings together withdrawal management and residential rehabilitation.

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Nobody knows how many law enforcement agencies are in Pennsylvania, and most aren’t participating in a statewide database to flag personnel issues
(7:24 - 14:16)

Pennsylvania has 67 counties, thousands of municipalities, many with their own police departments, often only a few officers. How many law enforcement agencies are in the commonwealth?

“There are definitely at least 1,300 police departments, but from there, it gets a little bit less clear; could be up to anywhere from 1,500 to 1,900 by some estimates," says Danielle Ohl, investigative reporter with Spotlight PA.

Ohl says without a clear count of the total number of law enforcement agencies, it’s unclear if said agencies are complying with state laws and training officers properly.

Act 57, passed into law in 2020, was supposed to create a database to track police misconduct that can be shared among departments across the state. However, most departments have not opted in to the database, and there’s been no penalty for lack of participation.

“President Joe Biden recently signed an executive order trying to create a similar misconduct database that hopefully will be a little bit more expansive than the one we have here,” says Ohl.

The sport of dragon boating has brought together Pittsburghers, including breast cancer survivors, to paddle out together
(14:25 - 22:30)

If you look out on the waterways in Pittsburgh, you might see canoes, paddleboards, kayaks, and perhaps less familiar, a dragon boat.

Local dragon boating organization, Steel City Dragons, has been paddling in Pittsburgh since 2002 with its all-gender team, and Pink Steel, a breast cancer survivor team.

“A dragon boat is an approximately 40-foot-long, canoe-shaped boat. We have 20 paddlers in the boat,” explains Naomi Herman, a member of both teams. “It is a wonderful opportunity for team building, for leaving your problems on the water.”

Herman says many members joined the team without any paddling experience, but quickly adapted to the sport.

Bob Randolph, head coach and board chair of Steel City Dragons also joined this conversation.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in Monday to Thursday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

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