Drug data debate

Data trends related to drug overdoses and deaths in Lycoming County are showing positive movement. Consecutive articles published recently in the Sun-Gazette have sparked some debate about these statistics and what they really show.

The first article ran on May 5th entitled, “Overdose Deaths Dip”. It covered a presentation I gave to Williamsport Kiwanis the day prior in which I shared two sets of data. The first was the coroner’s statistics as previous published in this newspaper. The coroner’s statistics clearly show that drug overdose deaths and opioid drug overdose deaths have been increasing significantly each year.

Most recently, 2016 saw 35 drug OD deaths, a 40% increase over 2015. As of last week the coroner reported only 10 drug overdose deaths in the first four months of 2017. If that trend continues, we can expect 30 drug ODs this year. Even if we have a spike and hit 35 again, it shows the trend is reversing.

As executive director of Project Bald Eagle, our efforts are primarily focused on heroin and opioid overdoses. The coroner’s data (as published previously in the Sun-Gazette) reports 18 such deaths in 2016. As of last week he reports only 2 so far this year. If that trend continues, we would end the year with 6 heroin-related overdose deaths in Lycoming County, a more than 60% decrease.

When someone says we’re on track to hit last year’s numbers you better believe that breaking even is better than another 40% increase. There are other reputable sources that confirm the trends are improving.

A recent report shows the number of system-wide overdoses managed by UPMC Susquehanna emergency medical services increased from 274 in 2015 to 427 in 2016. That trend has since improved from an average of 53 overdoses each month to only 20 per month.

These trends reflect the hard work of many people across many sectors of society. We cannot minimize the work that remains to be done, but neither should we minimize the clear and positive progress.

Steve Shope

Executive Director

Project Bald Eagle

Submitted by E-Mail