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Pitt study finds overdose deaths rise in Pa. - The Pitt News

The Pitt News

Pitt study finds overdose deaths rise in Pa.

By Dale Shoemaker / News Editor

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As the country sees a nationwide rise in heroin use, as well as deaths and legal issues surrounding the drug, Pitt researchers found the rate of overdose deaths in the state has increased since 1979.

Drug overdose deaths in Pennsylvania increased 14-fold over the last four decades, according to a study Pitt funded, showing the extent of the state’s overdose epidemic for the first time.

Since 1979, the study found, 35- to 44-year-olds have had the greatest increase in the rate of overdose deaths, though 25- to 34-year-olds have almost matched the rate — the later group had the highest number of overdose deaths in 2014.

Published in Thursday’s edition of the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE, the study mapped overdose deaths in Pennsylvania —  from 1979 to 2014 —  by age, race and gender, giving law enforcement and elected officials usable data to draw attention to the groups of people most prone to drug abuse. In the same week, Pitt’s School of Pharmacy announced the establishment of the Pennsylvania Heroin Overdose Prevention Technical Assistance Center to implement and maintain initiatives to reduce overdose incidents in counties across the state.

According to the study, Pennsylvania was one of 30 states with overdose as the leading cause of accidental death in 2008. It was also one of 20 states with overdose death rates higher than the national average.

Using Pitt’s Mortality and Population Data System — a database Pitt compiled of detailed death data from the National Center for Health Statistics — researchers from Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health found white men experience the most overdose deaths between the ages of 25 and 44. The data also showed drug use differs by race and age since black men have the highest overdose death rate between ages 45 and 65. Additionally, the data showed white adults used cocaine, hallucinogens, inhalants and nonmedical painkillers more often, while black adults used crack cocaine more often.

Overall, overdose rates were higher in men than in women, though women saw a more drastic increase from 2010 to 2014. The overdose death rates spanned several years for women — death rates for white women peaked between ages 25 and 54 and ages 35 to 64 for black women.

The study found that Philadelphia County had the highest concentration of overdose death rates in the state, but said death rates in Allegheny County almost equaled those in Philadelphia by 2013.

Jeanine Buchanich, co-author of the study and deputy director of Pitt Public Health’s Center for Occupational Biostatistics and Epidemiology, said in a release that other states could apply the findings in Pennsylvania to their own intervention procedures. Buchanich said the data could provide “avenues” toward potential focus areas.

“[Our research] also points to issues on the horizon that public health officials could prepare for such as overdoses in younger age groups and rapid overdose increases in areas centered on smaller cities with fewer resources,” Buchanich said.

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Pitt study finds overdose deaths rise in Pa.