Overdose calls tapering locally in McKees Rocks, Stowe, Crafton, Carnegie; deaths rising in PA
Photo by Sonja Reis
The Chartiers Center clinic on Broadway Avenue in Stowe.
-BY THE NUMBERS-
By Elizabeth Perry
Though drug overdose deaths have increased again in 2021 in Allegheny County, most local police chiefs have seen decreases in calls that have resulted in deaths since the height of the pandemic.
That seeming decrease could be due to many factors.
“Sometimes with the availability of Narcan, people aren't even calling the police or EMS like they used to, because they administer Narcan, their friend comes back, so we're never really going to know how many overdoses are occurring year by year,” McKees Rocks Police Chief Rick Deliman said.
Dr. Karl Williams, chief medical examiner for Allegheny County, reported July 7 a total of 719 overdose deaths occurred during 2021, accounting for 25 percent of all deaths under the jurisdiction of the medical examiner’s office. The deaths reflect an increase of 30 deaths over the final 2020 number of 689, or 5%. There were 564 overdose deaths in 2019 and 492 overdose deaths in 2018.
Overall, Pennsylvania had a 3% rise in deaths, which means Allegheny County is above the state average. The death toll of overdoses statewide in 2021 was 5,319, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Pennsylvania is among the 10 highest states of opioid use and overdose deaths, according to Overdose Free PA.
Stowe Township has seen the most overdoses in the area over the past several years. Chief Matt Preininger wrote via email there were 24 overdoses in 2019, three of which were fatal. In 2020, those overdose calls jumped to 48, and six resulted in fatalities.
There were 42 calls in 2021, but the same number of deaths. To date, this year there have been 14 overdose calls and two deaths.
Deliman said there were 21 overdoses in 2019 with one probable death. The number of overdoses reported to the police more than doubled the next year with 46 overdoses and seven probable deaths.
In 2021 there were 28 reported overdoses and nothing the police would consider a probable death.
Heroin is more dangerous now than ever because typically the drug is cut with something else, Deliman said. Fentanyl, a synthetic drug, and Carfentanyl, a veterinary tranquilizer which is exponentially more potent than regular fentanyl are being used to adulterate heroin, Deliman said.
“Unfortunately you never know what bag you’re getting – if that could be the one to do you in,” Deliman said.
Coraopolis Police Chief Ronald Denbow said the problem of overdosing has remained steady. His officers responded to 16 overdose calls which resulted in the death of one person. He said Narcan has been valuable in bringing people back around out of an overdose spiral.
“When I first started here the main drug of choice was crack cocaine,” Denbow, who began in the 1990’s, said. Now, the main problem is the synthetic opioid fentanyl, he said.
“Fentanyl is a moneymaker,” Denbow said. “The route to everything in this country is money.”
Denbow said officers aren’t involved in treating someone beyond responding to an initial emergency. People who call the police to save the life of their companion are not arrested, under protections from an act passed in 2014. Prior to that, people had been afraid to call the police, Denbow said.
Denbow said he didn’t know the answer to the problem. He and his department were just going to continue doing what they were doing.
Chief Jeffrey Kennedy, of Carnegie, said there had been more overdoses in 2020, but hadn’t noted a large increase the following year.
In 2020 there were nine deaths, while in 2021 there were three–a marked decrease according to numbers provided by Police Secretary Patricia Reaghard. Unfortunately, there have been two deaths so far this year.
Drug addiction is not new to the area, Kennedy said.
“It’s a problem we’ve had,” Kennedy said.