Overdose deaths in Chester County up slightly over same time period last year
By Steven Hoffman
A total of 65 people in Chester County have been confirmed to have died of a drug overdose during the first half of 2019, according to data recently released by the Chester County Coroner’s Office.
That’s a slight increase over the number of overdose deaths that were reported during the same time period in 2018.
According to the report, 62 of the 65 deaths in 2019 were determined to be accidental, while the 3 other incidents were determined to be a result of suicide. During the first six months of 2018, there were a total of 57 overdose deaths reported.
Pennsylvania has been hit particularly hard by the opioid drug crisis, though there are signs that prevention efforts are paying off. In 2018, Pennsylvania had the third-highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the country, but overall overdose deaths decreased last year. According to Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, Pennsylvania saw an 18.8 percent decrease in overdose deaths in 2018. The Coroner’s Office reported 112 accidental overdose deaths in Chester County in 2018, a 22 percent drop from 2017.
According to the Chester County Coroner’s Office, the demographic profile of those who have died of an accidental drug overdose so far in 2019 is similar to that of previous years, with the affected population remaining predominantly male (77 percent), white (80 percent), and in the 25-44 year age range.
One drug—fentanyl—is responsible for a large percentage of the overdose deaths in Chester County. This synthetic opioid is found in almost 76 percent of the overdose cases. No other substance comes close to that total, but most fatalities involve multiple drugs, both illicit and prescription.
Heroin, the next most common drug, was present in 22.6 percent of Chester County cases. Acetyl fentanyl, another synthetic opioid, and xylazine, a large animal anesthetic, were both found in 19.4 percent of cases, always in combination with fentanyl.
Ethanol (alcohol) and prescription benzodiazepines like alprazolam were found in 17.7 percent and 16.1 percent of cases, respectively. So far this year cocaine, amphetamine, and methamphetamine have been detected in less than 15 percent of drug deaths.
“People in Chester County continue to die from drug overdoses largely due to the super-strong opioid fentanyl,” Chester County Coroner Dr. Christina VandePol said in a statement. “This is not your prescription painkiller, it’s an illegal street drug often substituted for heroin. The 2018 drop in deaths is encouraging, but the recent up-tick shows we can’t relax prevention, law enforcement, or treatment approaches in an effort to bring an end to this epidemic.”
VandePol added, “The number of drug deaths continues to challenge the resources of many coroner and medical examiner offices, including ours. Nevertheless, we remain committed to supporting law enforcement efforts, providing answers for families, and reporting accurate and current data by performing an autopsy and toxicology testing in suspected drug overdose deaths. We communicate information on these and other deaths on our website, and to many other agencies, including Chester County Drug and Alcohol Services, the District Attorney’s Office, the Chester County and PA Departments of Health, and http://www.overdosefreepa.org.”