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Beaver County overdose deaths could drop by half in 2018

Beaver County Times - 11/4/2018

Nov. 04--Beaver County is on track for half as many people to die from a drug overdose in 2018 compared to 2017, officials said, a staggering change from 2016.

Through Sept. 30, there have been 28 deaths in the county attributed to drug overdoses. District Attorney David Lozier said trends indicate the county could finish 2018 with between 35 and 40 overdose deaths.

That's a drastic drop from the 102 overdose deaths seen in 2016 and the 82 in 2017, officials said.

"We've dramatically improved our treatment options and the coordination of treatment," Lozier said. "We're educating effectively, working with the school systems."

It's not just overdose deaths that are down, Lozier said. The number of overdose calls that Beaver County Emergency Services have received this year through the end of August is down compared to the same time period in the past two years as well.

The opioid crisis has killed thousands across Pennsylvania in the past three years, and more than 200 people in Beaver County.

In 2016, fentanyl began circulating heavily in the region, often mixed with other drugs such as heroin and cocaine. The synthetic opioid is highly addictive -- and extremely deadly.

First responders carry naloxone, an opioid antidote that Lozier said has saved innumerable lives.

According to data provided by Lozier, the peak of the crisis happened in the winter of 2016-17.

That's when the number of overdose calls spiked in February 2017 with 107. There have been ebbs and flows since then, dripping to its lowest in May 2018 with 24, but spiking back to 60 the following month. The fourth quarter of 2016 was also the deadliest of the epidemic, when 37 people died from a drug overdose between October and December.

Lozier said no one knows what the final months of 2018 will bring. The crisis is unpredictable.

"We're working on the crisis as we know it," Lozier said. "We could have three overdose deaths this weekend for all we know."

A particularly deadly batch of fentanyl could come through the county. A derivative of fentanyl that is resistant to naloxone could be circulated. There are a lot of "what ifs," he said.

Lozier credits a multifaceted response to the crisis with lowering the number of deaths in Beaver County. A warm hand-off program helps connect overdose victims with treatment. A drug diversion program gives people facing charges related to drug use an opportunity to go through drug treatment in lieu of jail time. Recidivism rates for graduates of the program are low, Lozier said.

It's making a difference, officials said.

"It's great when all agencies of government come together and see a change," Commissioner Tony Amadio said.

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(c)2018 the Beaver County Times (Beaver, Pa.)

Visit the Beaver County Times (Beaver, Pa.) at www.timesonline.com

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