DEA: Pennsylvania Overdose Deaths Surge, Led By Fentanyl

Fentanyl | Just Believe Recovery PA

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DEA: Pennsylvania Overdose Deaths Surge, Led By Fentanyl

The Drug Enforcement Agency recently conducted a study that stresses the changing nature of America’s overdose epidemic, and how the role of opioid painkillers is diminishing.

For the study, more than 4,600 overdose deaths related to drugs in Pennsylvania were analyzed and it was revealed that in 52 percent of those fatalities, fentanyl or fentanyl-related substances were involved. Also, toxicology reports found multiple substances in the decedents in many cases.

The second most identified drug was heroin (45 percent), following by benzodiazepines (33 percent) and cocaine (27 percent.) In fact, prescription opioids were the 5th most identified at 25 percent, followed closely by alcohol at nearly 20 percent.

Toxicology reports identified opioid medication in nearly 1,200 of overdose fatalities, and oxycodone was involved in most of those.

In total, the number of deadly overdoses in the state was 37% higher than in 2015, and PA’s overdose rate was twice the national average, at more than 36 deaths per 100,000 people. In 2016, an estimated 13 people died of a drug overdose in Pennsylvania each day.

What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid painkiller similar in effect to heroin, but up to 50 times more potent. In a medical setting, it is indicated for general anesthesia and to treat severe pain. Officials believe that most of the fentanyl on the streets, however, is not the result of drug diversion – rather, it is manufactured in clandestine labs outside the U.S.

It is also believed that most people who use fentanyl don’t necessarily know that is what they have received. That is, it is secretly laced into heroin or other drugs – or sometimes substituted outright. Dealers do this to increase profits, as fentanyl is inexpensive to make and a small amount can go a long way.

If the drug sounds familiar to you, it should be. Its most famous victim was the artist Prince, who died from an overdose last year.


Benzodiazepines are in a class of drugs known as anti-anxiety. Indeed, the presence of this drug in so many deaths is one of the more surprising aspects of the report – more Pennsylvanians suffered fatal overdoses with alprazolam (Xanax) in their system than oxycodone, and other anti-anxiety drugs such as clonazepam and diazepam were also found in hundreds of others.

Other Key Findings

According to the report, men were more likely to die from a fentanyl/heroin overdose than women and were more also more likely to have cocaine or alcohol found present during toxicology tests. Conversely, women were more likely to be found with alprazolam, clonazepam, or oxycodone in their system.

In 2016, 77% of decedents were Caucasian, 12% were African American, 4% were Hispanic, and 7% were “other.”


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