The number of drug overdose deaths in Washington County dropped significantly again last year, according to the coroner’s annual report.
Seventy-six peopled died last year, down 21 from the previous year, in a county that has been at the heart of the opioid epidemic, Coroner Tim Warco noted in his report.
“We just have to keep fighting addiction,” Washington County District Attorney Gene Vittone said.
Vittone said five of the 76 deaths were suicide.
He said the lower number for 2018 was “a combination of all of the things we’re doing.”
“We came down pretty drastically. There’s still a ways to go.”
Vittone said there are indications that, while heroin use might be dropping, the use of cocaine and crystal methamphetamines is increasing.
The reduction in deaths has been attributed to the state being flooded with naloxone, an opioid overdose antidote. The state health secretary also has issued a standing prescription for naloxone for anyone in the state who wants a supply of the drug.
Erich Curnow, a director at Washington County Drug and Alcohol Commission, said naloxone “certainly” has brought down the number of drug overdose deaths.
“We can’t attribute it to one certain thing,” Curnow said.
He said the number of screenings and assessments that match addicts with treatment programs rose 20 percent or more last year when compared to 2017.
The assessments went from 1,858 in 2017 to 2,277 last year, he said.
Pennsylvania issued 21,419 life-saving doses of the antidote since the program was launched in January 2018, according to a news release from the office of Gov. Tom Wolf.
Wolf this month also signed his sixth renewal of an opioid disaster declaration since last year. The declaration allows various agencies to work together to loosen regulations and make it easier for addicts to get treatment.
A coalition of various groups formed by Vittone also has been credited with bringing awareness to the problem and reducing the death rate.
Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids continued to contribute to overdose deaths in the county. All but one of the 76 deaths showed that the synthetic forms of the drug contributed to the overdoses. Thirty-three of the deaths were heroin-related.
There were 109 drug overdose deaths in the county in what became a record year in 2016, Warco’s reporting shows.
Washington police investigated the highest number of drug overdose deaths last year with 25 cases. Canonsburg and Cecil Township police each had a dozen such deaths, while Donora ended the year with 10, according to Warco’s report.