Pharmacy School Sheds Light on Heroin Deaths

A University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy website is raising awareness of a growing heroin problem in its surrounding suburban and rural communities.

A University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy website is raising awareness of a growing heroin problem in its surrounding suburban and rural communities.

The site, OverdoseFreePa.Pitt.edu, is accumulating data from medical examiners in about a dozen counties and creating graphs and maps with the information.

For example, a graph of Westmoreland County’s top 10 drugs recorded on death certificates shows that heroin-related deaths have jumped from 9 in 2011 to 36 in 2014. In Allegheny County, heroin was attributed to the deaths of 50 individuals in 2010 and has gained a stronger foothold since then, as it led to 153 deaths in 2014.

Dirk Matson, co-chairman of Westmoreland County’s Drug Overdose Prevention Task Force, told Trib Total Media that the comparative data can help his county predict what may happen in his area in the near future. For example, Matson said his county is typically a year behind Allegheny County in terms of trends, and Allegheny recently saw an increase in drug-related deaths in the younger age categories. The site could potentially help Westmoreland be proactive in preventing a similar trend.

Sherry Aasen, project manager of OverdoseFreePa, told Trib Total Media that she would like to see this kind of data for the whole state available to the public.

“The goal is to educate professionals and community leaders, who will learn and take lessons about what statistics are out there and how they can take action,” Aasen told Trib Total Media.

The website also contains information about naxolone, the epidemiology of overdoses, continuing education for pharmacists, and community education links.

“Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, physician assistants, treatment providers, and other allied health care professionals are vital partners in adapting the practice of medicine to adequately respond to the overdose epidemic,” the website states.