Pitt School of Pharmacy develops website to track overdoses

2015-03-09 | Tribune-Review

March 09--As a drug overdose epidemic rages in Pennsylvania, a website developed by the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy will help track in real time how counties compare in death rates.

Medical examiners' offices in as many as 13 counties are sending overdose data to the project, including Westmoreland and Allegheny, which started posting on the website last week. Data from Washington and Butler counties is expected to be added next.

"There was a need for this information," said Sherry Aasen, project manager for the website, OverdoseFreePa.Pitt.edu. "Ideally, we'd like to have this created for the entire state. It's a growing process."

The site features detailed statistics about those who die of overdoses, such as gender, age, location, race and type of drug.

In 2014, fatal heroin overdoses in Westmoreland County set a record when the coroner's office investigated 87. The statistics on the website show that other counties are struggling with the same issue.

Dirk Matson, co-chairman of the Westmoreland County's Drug Overdose Prevention Task Force, said the website is vital to help understand the region's addiction problem.

"One real example is that last year in Allegheny County, the number of deaths went up in the younger age categories," he said. "Allegheny County could be a predictor for us, as we're a year behind some of their trends. It gives us a blueprint to work ahead."

The website also offers links to treatment programs and information about overdose prevention.

"The goal is to educate professionals and community leaders, who will learn and take lessons about what statistics are out there and how they can take action," Aasen said.

Westmoreland County Coroner Ken Bacha has tracked overdose deaths for a decade but only recently started sending data to the Pitt site.

The county's data from 2009 to the present on all drug/alcohol overdoses was converted to be compatible with the website, said Deputy Coroner Joshua Zappone.

Bacha said seeing how the data is compared with other counties throughout Pennsylvania is instructive.

"A lot of these things aren't driven county by county. It's a more regional view of things, which I think is an advantage," Bacha said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.