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How many people have been killed by heroin this year? No one knows

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Nov 2, 2015 4:33 AM
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(Harrisburg) -- The heroin crisis is ravaging families across the midstate. But less than half of the region's counties can say exactly how many lives have been lost to the opiate this year.

Of the 15 midstate counties, just seven responded to multiple requests for statistics over a number of weeks from WITF.

Most reported numbers either higher or in line with last year's results, already some of the highest figures ever seen in the area.

The others said they didn't classify overdose deaths by drug or didn't respond.

Allegheny County Medical Examiner Dr. Karl Williams is based in western Pennsylvania and is concerned reliable data isn't available.

"Why spend time in a county that gets up towards the New York border, where they're cooking a lot of methamphetamine and they've got a lot of methamphetamine deaths, why pay attention to trying to get Narcan out in the community?" says Williams.

Williams, working with Westmoreland County and the University of Pittsburgh, is running a website called overdosefreepa.org.

It lays out each drug overdose death, with age, gender and race of the person killed, plus detailed information on the drugs found in their system.

Williams says: "So in Allegheny County and Westmoreland County, we have a heroin problem. In Allegheny, we have a fentanyl problem in addition to the heroin problem."

He says gathering all the facts helps efforts to develop a comprehensive plans to fight the drug crisis.

Williams says he understands coroners don't have enough resources to compile certain statistics, but believes if they have a chance to see how his system works, they'll consider making the change.

In the midstate, York County Coroner Pam Gay has made it a priority to provide detailed and accurate information about drug overdose deaths.

Pennsylvania has been criticized in the past for failing to establish a standard to categorize heroin overdose deaths.

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