Deaths attributed to drug toxicities kept increasing in 2017, according to a report released last month by the Drug Enforcement Administration Philadelphia Division and the University of Pittsburgh.Drug fatalities numbered 5,456 in Pennsylvania last year, bringing the overall increase of such deaths up 65 percent since 2015 – from 26 per 100,000 persons to 43, according to the institutions’ join report called “The Opioid Threat in Pennsylvania” released on Oct. 14.The southeast region of the state — representing the major Philadelphia metropolitan area plus Berks, Lancaster and Schuylkill counties — continues to have more deaths than any other geographical region observed in the report, with 2,388 in 2017. The southwest area had the next highest number of deaths with approximately 1,400.One of the newest pieces of information listed in the report is fentanyl being the most frequently reported in overdoses cases at 67 percent. The report shows the presence of fentanyl has increased 150 percent since 2015 and is now the most commonly reported drug category in all but 18 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.Fentanyl without the use of heroin was found in approximately 2,000 cases in 2017, up from fewer than 500 in 2015. Heroin combined with fentanyl was found in about 1,600 cases, and heroin without fentanyl dropped to 400 from 1,200 in 2015.Overall, fentanyl was reported in 3,600 deaths as either the sole drug or as part of a combination with other drugs.The increased use of fentanyl was mirrored by the decrease use of heroin among drug-fatality victims, which was found in less than 40 percent of the cases in 2017, down from over 53 percent two years ago. Heroin was reported in approximately 2,000 cases last year.Delaware County is part of the trend showing heroin use down and fentanyl use up. The report shows for 2017 over 70 percent of the county’s drug deaths had the presence of fentanyl compared to 50 percent featuring heroin. The presence of fentanyl and heroin in 2015 deaths was at 30 and 67 percent, respectively.The number of county deaths for the last three years, per the report, has been 648.The death rate for the county continues to inch upward from 33 deaths per 100,000 in 2015 to 46 in 2017, ranking it 15 in the state. Philadelphia leads with the highest drug death rate in 2017 at 77 per 100,000.The report says heroin is being sourced from Mexican transnational criminal organizations and that the heroin threat is exacerbated, “by the unprecedented proliferation of clandestine-produced fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances.”Delaware County District Attorney Katayoun Copeland said the drug trafficker’s mixture of heroin and fentanyl is “an effort to increase their profit margin” that “can cause an instantaneous overdose and death.”“One of the biggest challenges to law enforcement in combating these deadly drugs is addressing the source of the problem, and stopping the flow of these illicit drugs that are manufactured in clandestine labs overseas in China,” she said.Conversely, Copeland said deaths in the county have slowed to 166 compared to 185 at this time last year, but fentanyl is still a major factor.“While our number of drug-related deaths is lower from this time last year, more and more overdose deaths are the direct result of fentanyl,” said Copeland. “According our medical examiner, the majority of drug-related deaths here in Delaware County are opioid related, with over 50 percent of those decedents having fentanyl in their system.”“As chair of the Heroin Task Force,” Copeland continued, “we recognize that we must continue to focus on reducing the number of deaths and saving lives by reducing demand of these dangerous drugs through the efforts of our Narcotics Task Force as well as continuing our proactive efforts of taking a holistic approach to the opioid crisis through education, prevention and recovery.”

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