Coroner: Drug-related deaths down, heroin deaths up

Katherine Ranzenberger
  • 65 of the 99 drug-related deaths in 2015 were heroin overdoses.
  • There have been 124 naloxone saves so far in 2016.
  • Pam Gay, York County coroner, said 2016 is on pace with 2015 for drug-related deaths.

Even though there was a decrease in overall drug-related deaths from 2014 to 2015 in York County, Coroner Pam Gay said there should still be concern about the increase in heroin-related deaths.

York City drug detectives said they seized $13,000 worth of heroin, a stolen handgun and cash from Christian Hogan on Feb. 26, 2016.

There was a 16 percent decrease in overall drug-related deaths in York County during that time period, according to the recently released Pennsylvania State Coroners Association Report on Overdose Death Statistics. However, the number of heroin-related deaths increased from 64 in 2014 to 65 in 2015 in York County.

"While the number of overdose deaths are down, more of those deaths are becoming heroin-related," the York County coroner said.

By the numbers: In Pennsylvania, 3,505 died in 2015 from a drug-related overdose, according to the report. That's a 30 percent increase over 2014, when 2,489 people died.

The statewide average is about 27.4 deaths per 100,000 population. York County is under that average, with 22.4 deaths per 100,000 population.

Of the drug-related deaths in Pennsylvania in 2015, 28 percent were from opioids, or about 982 people, according to the report. Around 30 percent of those overdoses in the commonwealth were related to illegal drugs, including cocaine, heroin and fentanyl. That's about 1,052 people who died from illegal drugs in Pennsylvania. About 55 percent of the illegal drug overdoses were from heroin, or around 579 people.

According to the report, 64 of the 120 drug-related deaths in York County in 2014 were from heroin overdoses, or 53 percent. In 2015, 65 of the 99 drug-related deaths were heroin related, or 66 percent.

According to the Coroners Association, 10 Pennsylvanians died every day in the commonwealth in 2015 because of a drug-related overdose. The  association reported that if the 2016 data available so far is indicative, the number of deaths will continue to increase.

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York County is on track to have the same number of heroin-related deaths in 2016, Gay said. So far, there have been 44 drug-drug related deaths, with 22 of those ruled as heroin overdoses. There also are at least 22 deaths waiting for toxicology reports to come back.

In 2015, October had the most heroin overdoses, and in 2014, December led the pack. So far this year, Gay said July has the most overdose deaths, with 11 suspected heroin overdoses, but that number could change. She said the number of overdose deaths varies based on the supply and type of heroin available.

Naloxone: Gay attributed the decrease in overall drug-related deaths to police carrying naloxone, an overdose reversal drug. Police began carrying it in April 2015.


Kyle King, spokesman for the York County District Attorney's Office, said there were 124 naloxone saves from January to the end of July. In 2015, there were 99 total saves.

"Naloxone is going to have a direct impact on the heroin and opioid-related overdoses," he said. "It's going to have a positive impact because of all the publicity and education going on. Some of these saves are repeats, but any time first responders have an impact on lives is incredible."

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Despite the increased education and decreased drug-related deaths, Gay said there's still a lot of work to do to keep this from spreading further.

"Even though there's a decrease in overall deaths in some urban counties, we're seeing an increase in the rural counties surrounding them," she said. "This is spreading to those communities. It's going to take a while to see a significant decrease overall in the state."

Other counties: York is considered to be an urban county by this report. Rural surrounding counties show an increase in overdose deaths between 2014 and 2015.

Adams County increased by four deaths to 10, while Cumberland County increased by six to 41 total deaths. Lancaster County increased by 24 drug-related deaths to 80 total drug-related deaths from 2014 to 2015, and Dauphin County increased by 28 to 82 total drug-related deaths.

This is the second year the report has been released. The report includes an in-depth look at the deaths by weekdays and by months, as well as what drugs are causing overdoses and the general demographics of those who are overdosing.

Gay said the 2015 report includes information on communicable diseases, such as hepatitis and HIV. She said she is interested to see if a needle exchange program started in May will have an impact on those numbers.

— Reach Katherine Ranzenberger at or on Twitter at @YDKatherine.