Pennsylvania Health Officials Flying Blind In Midst of Overwhelming Drug Epidemic

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PA Death Certificates Missing Critical Data – What Drugs Were Involved?

As the opioid epidemic continues to claim thousands of lives across the state, Pennsylvania death certificates are missing key details regarding cause of death.

As reported by The Inquirer, officials at the CDC can see that fentanyl is causing a spike in deaths across the country. But, they can’t tell if these trends are happening across Pennsylvania.

Because when they look at death certificates from the state, nearly half of those for fatal overdoses have a gaping omission — the drugs involved!

Only Louisiana has a worse record. Among the Pennsylvania counties with available data, Philadelphia ranks last. It specified which drugs led to overdose deaths on just 7 percent of 746 death certificates in 2016, according to the most recent CDC data.

“So many of the drugs aren’t specified,” Anderson, chief of the CDC’s mortality statistics branch, said of PA’s numbers. “… We have no confidence they reflect reality.”

The CDC’s mortality data, collected from death certificates submitted by every state, play a critical role in the world of public health. In relation to the opioid crisis, public health workers, researchers, elected officials, journalists, and average citizens use the information in countless ways, such as to track trends over time, compare states, and find emerging threats.

For example, after Kentucky made a push to collect toxicology information on overdose death certificates, officials discovered that a particular prescription muscle relaxer was involved in nearly a third of all overdose deaths. Armed with that information, the state legislature deemed it a Schedule V drug, allowing the state to track prescriptions for it.

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To learn more about how Pennsylvania is struggling to collect fundamental drug overdose data, please visit

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