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More than twice as many people died from drug overdoses than traffic accidents in 2014

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | May 7, 2015 3:28 AM
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Photo by Ben Allen/witf

State Representative Ron Marsico (R - Dauphin) stands at the podium, as a question is posed to the group, which includes York County Coroner Pam Gay.

(Harrisburg) -- A drug crisis has ravaged communities of all shapes and sizes across the commonwealth, and new data is offering some information about just how deep the problem cuts.

Drug overdoses killed nearly 2,500 people in Pennsylvania last year, according to a report from the Pennsylvania State Coroners Association.

That's nearly seven people a day, and more than twice as many as the number killed in a traffic accidents in 2014.

But 13 counties didn't hand over statistics about drug overdoses, including the third largest - Montgomery.

"This is very much underestimated. You look at some of these counties over here that didn't even report the overdose deaths. Some of them are pretty heavily populated," says Republican state Representative Matt Baker of Bradford County.

Cumberland County Coroner Charles Hall says because of prescription painkillers and heroin, overdose deaths have skyrocketed from two in 2010 to 35 in his county last year.

"These people out there that are overdosing on this stuff, they're doctor shopping also. So they go to doctors, they get prescription filled here, they go to another doctor, get the same prescription filled again, and then go to two different pharmacies and get them filled," says Hall.

A recent report by WITF found there's no publicly-available state database for tracking overdose deaths by drug.

Baker says the state has to do a better job of collecting information so it can get a better handle on the crisis and develop more solutions.

The drug overdoses cut across nearly every demographic group.

New Jersey recently reported a 13% decrease in overdose deaths, attributing the decline to the life-saving drug naloxone.

Susan Shanaman, who put together the State Coroners Association report, says she's hopeful the increasing availability of naloxone can help cut down on deaths.

But she notes that raises another issue: how to track those who are saved, and get them help.

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