Statewide, the number of hospital admissions for opioid overdose in 2018 dropped 23.8% from the year before, according to a report released today. And Washington, Allegheny and Westmoreland counties helped lead the charge.

Fayette, on the contrary, did not fare well in the residential-based breakdown.

Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council conducted a three-year review of opioid-overdose hospitalizations, and among its conclusions is there were 2,667 such admissions in the Keystone State last year – 833 fewer than in 2017. The 2017 figure of 3,500 represented an increase of 158 from 3,342 in 2016.

“These findings support other opioid-related data we are seeing in the commonwealth, including a decrease in overdose deaths,” said Joe Martin, executive director of PHC4, an independent state agency that collects, analyzes and reports on the cost and quality of health care in the state.

“The decrease in heroin overdose admissions is particular noteworthy, as 2018 marks the first time in almost a decade where we see a decrease in those numbers.”

Washington and Westmoreland counties, according to PHC4, experienced declines in this category each of the past two years. Opioid overdose admissions fell in Washington from 59 in 2016, to 50 a year later, and to 30 in 2018. Hospitalizations in Westmoreland dropped from 116 to 109 to 68 over the same period.

From 2016 to 2018, the percentage of admissions dropped dramatically in these two counties: 49% in Washington and 41% in Westmoreland.

In 2018, Washington County’s rate of 17.2 admissions per 100,000 residents was the fourth lowest in the western half of the state, behind Butler (12.1), Crawford (14.1) and Blair (14.7). Butler actually had the second lowest rate in Pennsylvania last year, trailing only Adams (11.6).

PHC4 did not compile statistics for 27 counties, including Greene, because of low volume. Most of those non-reported counties are west of the Susquehanna River.

Allegheny County opioid OD hospitalizations jumped 17.4% from 2016 to 2017 (362 to 425), then nosedived 44.5% over the next year to 236. That number of admissions was second among Pennsylvania’s 67 counties last year, well behind Philadelphia (579).

Fayette hospitalizations increased the past two years, from 37 in 2016 to 42, then 44. Fayette’s rate per 100,000 residents in 2018 was 40.0, third worst in Pennsylvania. Philadelphia (44.8) had the highest rate, followed by Lawrence (41.6).

Brook Ward, president and chief executive officer of Washington Health System, said Tuesday afternoon that he had not read the report. Apprised of some statistics, he attributed some of the local declines to “a combination of things,” especially the oversight of government, health care and business leaders.

Ward also credited Washington and Greene counties with having “very robust opioid task forces,” and praised the work of drug and alcohol organizations in combating the opioid crisis that has beset this region in recent years.

He also singled out Greenbriar Treatment Center, a part of WHS, for its effective programs.

Significantly, the report says that in 2018, about 42% of overdose admissions were due to heroin, and the other 58% were associated with pain medication. It also showed a 12.7% increase in heroin overdose admissions between 2016 and 2017, followed by 36.4% decrease between 2017 and 2018.

“While these decreases are encouraging,” Martin said, “the brief also points to increases in hospitalizations for overdose of cocaine and amphetamines – something we will continue to monitor.”

Business Writer

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won eight individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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