Medical Examiner’s Office Releases Final 2017 Overdose Death Data

Data Shows that Deaths Peaked in Late 2016, Have Dropped Progressively Since

PITTSBURGH – The Allegheny County Office of the Medical Examiner reported today that all 2017 potential overdose cases in Allegheny County have been completed, and that the final number for the year is 735. This represents an increase of 80 cases over 2016. The data also shows that overdose deaths appear to have peaked in the fourth quarter of 2016, and have dropped progressively since that point.

“In reviewing the quarterly data, we see a peak in the fourth quarter of 2016, during which there were 259 deaths,” said Karl Williams, MD, MPH, Medical Examiner. “The numbers have dropped progressively since that point, with 133 being recorded for the last quarter of 2017. There has also been a corresponding decrease in total autopsies processed by the office.”

The overall decrease can be attributed to many factors including an increased availability and administration of Naloxone/Narcan, along with the combined attention to the problem by collaborative efforts of county departments, public safety agencies, and community groups such as Prevention Point Pittsburgh.

The 2017 overdose deaths were almost always caused by a mixture of drugs. Beginning in 2016, fentanyl has replaced heroin as the drug found most commonly in these mixtures. As has been the case for the past decade, cocaine, ethanol and alprazolam remain in the list of top five drugs. All have increased in absolute numbers over the past year, but only in proportion to the general trend of total overdoses.

Of particular significance in the 2017 data is the increased presence of analogues of fentanyl in the mixtures. These analogues, known as fentanyl-related substances, first appeared in Allegheny County in 2015 when 33 instances of acetyl fentanyl were found. Analogues can have very similar structures to fentanyl, but still vary widely in toxic effect. These analogues have been increasing in both number and variety for the past several years. In 2017, they were documented in 168 cases and, for the first time, two of them were among the list of top ten overdose drugs found.