Pennsylvania’s top anti-drug official says he expects last year’s overdose deaths will top 2014’s number. It’s the latest news in what is proving to be a long fight to slow the spread of heroin and prescription painkiller abuse.
More than 2,500 people died of drug overdoses in 2014.
Statewide data for last year is expected in the coming months.
Secretary Gary Tennis, who serves as the head of the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, said he’s talked with some county coroners known for keeping current and comprehensive records who say their 2015 totals top last year’s.
Thousands of people have died in the past year, but Tennis said police have also used naloxone to save hundreds of people.
“If we were not doing the things we did, No. 1, it would be even worse than it is today,” he said. “We’ve got 600 people, in the last year, who are alive today, because of what we did.”
Many police departments now carry naloxone, which reverses an overdose on opioid drugs including heroin or OxyContin.
Saving people isn’t enough, Tennis said. Health care professionals need to get them help.
For months, he’s been pushing emergency department staff to provide a “warm handoff” — urging anyone rescued from an overdose to get treatment.
The state and the Pennsylvania Medical Society have also put together a class for health care providers on the topic.
Meanwhile, Tennis said, his department can only fund addiction treatment for about one in eight people who ask for help, which is actually better than the national average.
With more funding, the agency would be able to ramp up its efforts.
“When you have these kind of crises, when you have these kind of epidemics, you start to kick in your solutions,” he said. “You start to kick in and find anything you can find, and we’re looking for everything we can, and implementing everything we can.”