Recent reports by the Drug Enforcement Agency paint a very grim picture of the drug overdose situation in Pennsylvania, especially around the city of Philadelphia. The entire state has always been in an endless battle against a growing drug problem for years. A report released by DEA’s Philadelphia Field Division in July 2016 showed that there were 3,383 drug overdose deaths across the state in 2015, which marked a 23.4% increase from the number of drug overdose deaths reported in 2014.
In early December 2016, the medical examiner’s office in Philadelphia stated that there were 35 drug overdose fatalities in the first 5 days of the month. Twelve people died of drug overdose on the first day of December and four more died the next day. In the weekend that followed, nineteen more people within the city succumbed to drug overdose complications. The recent deaths are a clear indication of how severe the drug crisis truly is in Philadelphia.
Currently, the medical examiner’s office and Philadelphia police are working closely to determine the exact cause of the rising overdose cases and the reasons for the increased number of deaths among drug users. Lt. John Stanford, Philadelphia’s police spokesman, observed that even though drug overdoses occurred in the past deaths due to drug overuse were not as rampant as is the case today. The fact that drug users are now overdosing and dying at such a high rate is a matter of great concern to everyone in Philadelphia.
Finding an exact explanation for the recent surge in overdose deaths is like trying to unravel a complicated puzzle. Investigators have determined that the people who died from overdose bought the drugs from different sources, which means the “bad batch” of drugs didn’t come from a single origin. Many have hinted at the existence of a particular street heroin type that is either purer than the rest or probably laced with more potent painkillers such as Fentanyl.
Increased Incidences of Fentanyl Abuse
According to the DEA report released in July 2016, toxicology tests showed the presence of Fentanyl in the bodies of over 55% of 2015 drug overdose victims. Fentanyl is a potent opiate that has gradually become a lethal cousin to heroin. It is currently the second most-frequently found drug in the bodies of overdose victims in Pennsylvania.
Data from the DEA report showed the amount of Fentanyl found in overdose victims in 2015 to be a whopping 92.9% higher than in 2014. It is worth pointing out here that Fentanyl is between 80 and 100 times more potent or stronger than morphine. Deaths resulting from Fentanyl abuse increased by over 300% between 2013 and 2014, the DEA report states. Drug dealers often use Fentanyl to cut the heroin sold on the streets of Philadelphia. Even more worrying is the fact that Philadelphia is known for having the strongest heroin in the nation. The heroin sold in Philadelphia is around 80% pure, which is almost twice the purity of the type sold in New York City.
Heroin is still the primary cause of death due to drug overdose across the country, but in Philadelphia, there is a significant increase in the number of deaths related to an overdose of prescription drugs, especially opioids such as Fentanyl.
The Deadly Transition from Opioids to Heroin
According to another report released in July 2016 by the DEA on the growing drug problem in Philadelphia, the city had experienced a 43% increase in drug overdose deaths since 2009. In fact, the state of Pennsylvania is currently the leading drug overdose deaths state in the nation. In almost all the drug overdose death cases in Philadelphia, heroin was found in the victims’ systems.
Data from DEA’s Philadelphia Field Division showed that close to 2/3 of drug overdose victims were male with an average age of 42. The report has also linked increased abuse of prescription painkillers to the high number of heroin-related deaths. There is a widely observed trend of abusers of prescription opioids gradually switching to heroin as the addiction grows stronger. The trend is well-supported by toxicology test results which show a high presence of opioids oxycodone as well as hydrocodone together with heroin in victims’ bodies.
Local law enforcement reports indicate that an oxymorphone known as Opana has emerged as an increasingly popular drug of choice for Pennsylvania’s prescription drug abusers. The presence of Opana in drug overdose victims increased by 42% from the year 2013 to 2014. It is quite evident that a large percent of prescription drug abusers eventually turn to heroin in the course of their addiction.
The High Prevalence of Drug Overdose Deaths in Philadelphia
Fatal drug overdoses in Philadelphia outnumbered murders committed in 2014. There were 700 drug overdose-related deaths in the city compared to 280 cases of homicide. There were 460 overdose deaths in 2013 which means that the rate nearly doubled in 2014. In 2015, the number of drug overdose deaths increased by close to 10%. As 2016 comes to a close with an even higher number of overdose deaths, the drug abuse situation looks grimmer. Let’s take a brief look at 2015 fatal drug overdose statistics to truly appreciate the magnitude of the problem.
In 2015, Montgomery reported 136 overdose deaths, a 16% drop from the previous year. However, in Delaware County 202 people died of drug overdose in the same year, marking a 41% increase in overdose fatalities compared to 2014.
Philadelphia had a 10% increase in overdose deaths in 2015. The situation was more severe in Bucks County and Chester County where 63 people died of drug overdose complications. Major contributors to overdose deaths in Philadelphia last year included heroin and cocaine in combination with oxycodone painkillers and anti-anxiety prescription medications such as Xanax and Klonopin. Methamphetamine was also present in around 3% of drug overdose victims in Philadelphia.
A large majority of victims were white males between the age of 30 and 40. Rural counties topped the list of counties with the highest number of drug overdose deaths in Pennsylvania. Notably, rural counties make up 70% of the overall state population. The high number of overdose victims in rural counties indicates that the drug crisis is no longer an urban problem but a statewide issue.
Mitigation Measures Being Taken to Combat the Problem
According to Gary Tuggle, who is in charge of the DEA Philadelphia Division, illegal street drugs and pharmaceuticals have, over the years, continued to take many lives and destroying families not only in Philadelphia but across the state and the nation. It is important for law enforcement agencies, elected officials, professionals involved in healthcare and treatment, and community groups to come together and find ways to address all the factors that contribute to the availability and abuse of illicit drugs.
Reacting to the recent drug overdose deaths, the deputy commissioner of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health, Roland Lamb, stated that he had never seen such a high number of people dying of drug overdose in “such a short period of time” in his career. He described various steps the department is taking to mitigate the drug situation in Philadelphia including training people on different methods of administering overdose antidotes and distributing antidote kits in all parts of the city. The department is also collaborating with hospitals and other healthcare facilities to identify individuals who have had a drug overdose experience and steer them into treatment.
In July 2016, Valerie Arkoosh, the County Commissioner for Montgomery, talked about a two-part approach being taken to combat the runaway drug overdose epidemic. The first approach was the formation of the Montgomery County Overdose Task Force which currently spearheads efforts in public awareness, school education programs, and distribution of drug take-back boxes where one can safely deposit unused opioids. The second approach ensures that all medics and police officers carry along opioid overdose kits at all times. These mitigating measures are gradually being replicated in most parts of Philadelphia too.
Physicians have also been advised to prescribe addictive opioid painkillers either in lower doses or less often. The prescription should be meant as a last resort and only given for a short duration. Guidelines recently issued by the CDC strongly discourage the use of opioids in the treatment of chronic pain. A combination of opioids and benzodiazepines in pain management treatment is potentially harmful to the patient and may easily lead to abuse and addiction.
People who are in regular contact with users of opioids are advised to have an antidote known as Naloxone or Narcan, which is known to reverse the effects of a fatal opioid overdose in the shortest time possible.
The rising cases of drug overdose deaths in Philadelphia have become a major concern for everyone in the city and neighboring counties. It is important for people to reach out and find ways and means to help people suffering from addiction access treatment. We all have an important role to play in ensuring that Philadelphia does not record another death due to a drug overdose. If you are looking for a suitable addiction treatment center for yourself or for your loved one, visit http://treatmentcenterhelp.com to learn more about all the available treatment options in Philadelphia, Delray treatment center.