Fayette Co, PA Set to Surpass 2012 Drug Overdose Death Toll

From http://www.triblive.com by Richard Gazarik, October 11, 2013

The Fayette County Coroner’s Office is investigating three presumed drug overdose deaths within three days that, if confirmed by toxicology tests, would push the drug-related death toll past the total number for 2012.

Roger Victor, chief field investigator, said the latest was on Monday morning. The victim was found with 17 bags of heroin.

County authorities investigated 15 drug-related deaths in 2012. This year, the county had reached that number by July, according to coroner’s records.

The coroner, Dr. Phillip E. Reilly, said the county set a record two years ago with 42 overdose deaths.

“We’re not putting up pins on a map,” Reilly said. “The deaths are not clustered in any one area. They’re in all areas.”

Reilly suspects that more drug addicts are turning to heroin because of the high cost of prescription painkillers, such as oxycodone and Vicodin.

“My understanding is that oxycodone is up to $60 a tablet compared to heroin, which is much cheaper,” he said.

A state House Subcommittee on Crime and Corrections this week heard testimony in Westmoreland County that heroin sells for $8 to $10 a bag and is much more potent than in the past. The drug is being smuggled into southwestern Pennsylvania by Mexican drug cartels and criminal networks based in Detroit, New York and Philadelphia.

The Fayette County Drug and Alcohol Commission, in its 2011-12 annual report, said counselors have seen a 14 percent increase in heroin users and a 9 percent increase in use of other opiates. The agency said it assessed 80 clients who were heroin addicts and 126 who said they were addicted to other opiates.

Reilly said he believes some of the overdose deaths are caused by the victim’s lack of knowledge about drug dosage.

He said some addicts take a dose of oxycodone, designed to relieve pain for six to eight hours, that will give them the same euphoria as a shot of heroin. But some addicts are buying pills that have a longer release time and when they don’t feel the expected rush, they ingest another pill.

“People experience some disappointment thinking they got a bad pill, so they take another one. Stupidly, they don’t know that … and so they take another 12-hour one,” the coroner said.

Reilly said stacking painkillers affects the respiratory system and causes a person to stop breathing.

He has seen drug users cut open fentanyl patches, which adhere to the underside of the arm, and suck out the gel. Addicts are ingesting 72 hours of continuous pain medication in “one slurp or swallow.”

“They’re dead before they hit the ground,” Reilly said.

Police in Fayette County have made major drug seizures in the past few years.

• In April, a Uniontown man was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for selling 300 grams of heroin.

• In September, two Masontown men were arrested after police found heroin worth between $30,000 and $40,000 in their vehicle.

• In 2010, drug agents seized $450,000 worth of heroin in Connellsville.


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