Gene Vittone

Harry Funk/Observer-Reporter

Washington County District Attorney Gene Vittone, co-chairman of Washington Opioid Overdose Coalition, says the coalition’s efforts still have a long way to go.

The number of drug overdose deaths appear to have leveled off in Washington County last year.

Washington County Coroner Tim Warco’s office investigated 76 drug overdose deaths last year, a number identical to the previous year, his records show.

Washington County District Attorney Gene Vittone said he expects to record a number lower than 76 because he doesn’t include suicides as a result of drug overdoses in his statistics. He said he needed to consult with Warco’s office to set his official number of drug overdose deaths.

“My guess is it’ll be down a tad but not by much,” Vittone said Thursday.

He said the deadly carfentanil was still finding its way into the heroin supply, that he needed more detectives to investigate the illegal drug trade.

More than 400 people have died in the county since 2010 in a state where opioid addiction has been declared an epidemic. A record was set in 2016 when the county recorded 106 drug overdose deaths.

The number fell in 2018 by 20% from the previous year after the county and state became flooded with the opioid antidote known as naloxone.

The numbers can be skewed because some of the drug overdoses occurred across the Monongahela River in Monessen and Belle Vernon, Westmoreland County, and the victims were pronounced dead in Mon Valley Hospital in Washington County, the coroner’s office said.

Vittone said he wasn’t concerned about reports that the state was cutting back on paying for naloxone since he has the option of purchasing it with money seized from convicted drug dealers.

He said he has spent $20,000 in one year to buy the drug.

It’s appropriate that convicted drug dealers pay for naloxone because they are responsible for the problem, Vittone said.

“I’m not worried about funding,” he said.

Vittone said his biggest problem with dealing with the drug problem was that “every politician” who ran for office last year campaigned on plans to fight opioid addiction. And once elected, he said, they don’t attend his opioid coalition meetings.

“Not much is going to change until we get serious about it,” Vittone said. “We need comprehensive treatment.”

Staff Writer

Scott Beveridge is a North Charleroi native who has lived most of his life in nearby Rostraver Township. He is a general assignments reporter focusing on investigative journalism and writing stories about the mid-Mon Valley.

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