Pubdate: Tue, 18 Aug 2015
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)
Copyright: 2015 PG Publishing Co., Inc.
Author: David Templeton


Three Heroin Users Die, Three Saved With Narcan in Washington County

A woman heading to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting Sunday collapsed and 
lay unconscious in a Canonsburg parking lot after a heroin overdose. 
She was one of 17 overdoses that day in Washington County that may 
have caused as many as three deaths.

Canonsburg police, equipped with the opioid antidote naloxone, known 
as Narcan, used the nasal spray to revive the woman in a matter of 
seconds, Canonsburg Chief Alex Coghill said. Borough police also 
responded to a second call in neighboring Houston, where emergency 
medical officials already were on the scene. Naloxone again was used 
to revive the victim.

In addition to the cases in Canonsburg and Houston, eight overdoses 
occurred in Washington, Pa., with another in Donora, where the person 
also was treated with naloxone.

"This is a significant increase in overdose calls over a 24-hour 
period," Washington County Public Safety Director Jeff Yates said 
Monday following a meeting with county Coroner Timothy Warco, 
District Attorney Eugene Vittone and state police. Mr. Yates said 
what occurred in the county reflects the national heroin-overdose epidemic.

On Monday, the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy announced 
it would spend $13.4 million on a program targeting high-intensity 
drug-trafficking areas, especially in New England and Appalachia, the 
northeast corridor between New York and Washington, D.C., and on the 
southern U.S. border, Bloomberg news reported. The goal is to plot 
drug-trafficking routes and help public health agencies and 
paramedics to stem overdose deaths.

For 2013, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 
reported 8,257 heroin deaths, with 6,525 of those involving men. The 
Northeast and Midwest have reported particularly high rates of 
heroin-overdose deaths per 100,000 people.

The Allegheny County medical examiner's office is analyzing drug 
samples from Washington County, Chief Coghill said, to determine 
whether adulterated heroin is responsible for the multiple overdoses 
and potential deaths, much the way heroin laced with fentanyl last 
year was linked to 22 overdose deaths in Allegheny County and three 
other counties in the region. The highly potent synthetic opioid with 
amplified potency can lead to overdoses and quick death.

While the type of heroin involved in the overdoses is yet unknown, 
the large number of overdoses in one day, Chief Coghill said, makes 
it likely that an adulterated form was used.

Mr. Warco indicated in a news release that he's investigating the 
cause or causes of the three deaths. The names of the deceased were 
not released Monday.

The one positive aspect of the epidemic of overdoses was that three 
people were treated with naloxone Sunday and survived, raising the 
total this year to six in Washington County.

"We were the first police department [in the county] to equip our 
officers with Narcan because we knew this day would come," Chief 
Coghill said. His officers arrived in the parking lot to find the 
unconscious woman with a pulse but clearly in a medical emergency.

In a release, Mr. Vittone said he began a program to distribute 
naloxone to local police and medical officials with money forfeited 
under court order from drug dealers.

"This is part of a multifaceted project to rein in the epidemic," he 
stated. "To date we've saved six lives. The only way to rid our 
communities of this scourge is to prosecute drug dealers who are 
poisoning our communities."

On May 21, Allegheny County Health Department Director Karen Hacker 
issued a standing order allowing participating pharmacies to dispense 
naloxone without a prescription to prevent drug-overdose deaths, with 
six kits dispensed in the following seven weeks.
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