Philadelphia News & Search
Although drug overdose deaths rose again in Philadelphia and statewide last year, the city lost its No. 1 ranking as fatalities spiked more significantly in rural areas, according to an annual Drug Enforcement Administration analysis released Thursday.
Among the 67 counties, Philadelphia ranked fifth in overdose death rates per 100,000 of population, behind four counties in western Pennsylvania. Fulton County, ranked No. 32 in 2015, came in at No. 1 in 2016 with a rate of nearly 27 deaths per 100,000 people.
It was the first time since record-keeping began in 2013 that Philadelphia did not have the highest rate of drug fatalities. But overdose deaths did jump nearly 30 percent in the city — from 702 in 2015, to 905 last year, the report said. While there was a larger percentage increase in overdoses in rural areas, in raw numbers the state’s urban regions saw more than three times as many deaths as the rest of the state.
Drug-Related Overdose Deaths in Pa.
“Overdose from opioids is already a leading cause of death in Philadelphia, and the numbers continue their shocking increases,” said Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley, noting that in Philadelphia, overdoses are the leading cause of death for age groups 15-24, 25-34, and 35-44.
In Southeastern Pennsylvania, 1,900 people died of fatal overdoses — more than any other region in the state. Death rates in the Pennsylvania suburbs ranged from 40 per capita in Delaware County to 19 per capita in Chester County.
The 2016 numbers, compiled from state coroners and medical examiners and analyzed by the DEA Philadelphia Division and the University of Pittsburgh, tallied 4,642 drug-related overdose deaths in the state — an increase of 37 percent. Deaths were attributed to fentanyl and similar substances, cocaine, benzodiazepines, heroin, prescription opioids, or other illicit drugs.
The number of deaths from heroin remained steady while fatal overdoses involving fentanyl, a super-strong synthetic opioid often laced into heroin or taken separately, increased by 130 percent. In Philadelphia, it was present in the blood of nearly half of 2016’s victims. And, while fentanyl had often been disguised as heroin and ingested by unwitting users, drug customers are now intentionally seeking it out, the DEA analysis said.
The shift could be a “significant indicator” that Pennsylvania opioid users are changing habits — though fentanyl can cause a higher rate of deaths without a higher rate of use because it is so strong.
Only three counties, Cameron, Forest and Warren, had no drug overdose deaths.
Philadelphia News & Search