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Prevention Resources are Inadequate in Pennsylvania Counties with High Overdose Rates, New Statewide Data Brief Shows

PA Opioid Overdose Prevention Indicators, 2016

October 5, 2016

Prescription drug overdose prevention efforts across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are lacking in counties with high overdose rates, according to a new report released by Drexel University Dornsife School of Public Health researchers as part of a statewide workgroup studying prescription drug misuses and abuse prevention initiatives.

Pennsylvania has the highest rate of opioid overdose deaths in the nation among 18-24 year old males, and the 8th highest rate of drug overdose deaths overall. Overdose deaths in the Commonwealth increased by 13 percent from 2013, to a total of 2,732 drug overdose deaths in 2014, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

“Overall, many Pennsylvania counties with high overdose rates lack the prevention resources needed to reduce overdose deaths,” said State Epidemiological Outcomes Workgroup (SEOW) co-chairs Amy Carroll-Scott, PhD, MPH, and Philip Massey, PhD, MPH, both assistant professors of Community Health and Prevention in the Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University. “Local and state officials dedicated to preventing this growing epidemic can use findings and recommendations in this report to identify gaps in services and areas for improvement regarding overdose prevention.”

The SEOW compiled data to provide a current snapshot of overdose deaths and available resources aimed to prevent misuse and abuse of prescription drugs.  Resources include those intended to deter people from developing addiction, efforts to diagnose addiction early and prevent relapse, as well as medical treatments to prevent overdose deaths.

The new report maps and displays statewide data related to key indicators including overdose deaths, drug take-back boxes, opioid replacement therapy, as well as the availability and use of naloxone.

Download the 2016 State Epidemiological Outcomes Workgroup report, Confronting an Epidemic: Opioid Overdose Prevention in Pennsylvania

Key findings:

  • Philadelphia, Allegheny, Montgomery, York and Delaware counties had the highest number of opioid overdose deaths in 2014. The rate of opioid-related overdose deaths per 100,000 people was highest in Philadelphia, Susquehanna, Cambria, Fayette and York counties.
  • While there are more than 400 drug take-back boxes for residents to dispose of unwanted prescription medications in the Commonwealth, the two counties with the highest number of opioid overdose deaths (Philadelphia and Allegheny counties) have the lowest rates of take-back boxes per 100,000 people.
  • North-central and northeast regions of the Commonwealth had an observable lack of opioid replacement therapy (ORT) available to prevent overdoses and increase the likelihood of longer periods of sobriety, while urban centers and smaller cities have clusters of physicians and clinics offering ORT.
  • Since Pennsylvania Act 139 was enacted in November 2014 to improve access and availability of naloxone (Narcan) throughout the state, clusters of police departments and pharmacies carrying the drug can be found near urban centers, in the eastern and western parts of the state. While Philadelphia county has a high number of access points, the rate of availability is low, with less than five distribution locations for every 100,000 residents.
  • Law Enforcement Officers in Pennsylvania have used the rescue drug Naloxone to reverse 1,034 opioid overdoses between November 2014 – when PA Act 139 increased access to the drug – and June 2016.
    • The highest number of naloxone reversals were in counties with the highest number of overdoses, except in Allegheny County; in 2014, the western Pennsylvania county reported 255 opioid overdose deaths compared to 15 reported naloxone reversals.

This project was conducted through the SEOW, a revitalized substance abuse prevention initiative. It is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) through a Pennsylvania Strategic Prevention Framework - Partnerships for Success (SPF-PFS) grant. The Pennsylvania SPF-PFS grant specifically addresses underage drinking and prescription drug abuse and misuse.