Pennsylvania Coroners Overwhelmed By Overdoses

Beaver Falls

PA officials frustrated as overdoses overwhelm public health reporting

Pennsylvania public health and law enforcement officials are trying to wrap their arms around the extent of the opioid crisis but are increasingly frustrated by the lack of clear reporting from around the state.

It took Beaver County District Attorney David Lozier to launch a study of county 911 calls to determine just how much the epidemic was impacting the community. Lozier was inspired by voters he met while campaigning door-to-door in 2015. Many begged him to do something about opioids.

“All of the experts say that we need to be analyzing our data as far as where things happen, what kinds of crimes are happening and do a better job of being proactive,” Lozier said. “This is every community, every school district.”

The 911 study actually showed on a map what Lozier had heard from residents: Drug overdoses were happening throughout nearly every municipality in the county — 1,112 in 2016 and through September 2017 — and about half were concentrated in the river communities of Beaver Falls, Ambridge, Aliquippa and New Brighton.

Not only do officials lack clarity about the number of drug-related deaths, but there is also a paucity of data regarding non-fatal overdoses.

“Overdoses that are not fatal are not currently reportable to anybody,” said Dr. Karen Hacker, director of the Allegheny County Health Department. “Nobody has to tell you that we’ve had this many people who’ve had nonfatal overdoses.”

That’s a problem, Hacker said. There’s no exhaustive list of nonfatal overdoses — and officials have no idea what drugs those who didn’t die from an overdose were using.

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