Gene Vittone

Celeste Van Kirk/Observer-Reporter

Washington County District Attorney Gene Vittone

The heroin epidemic continued to cause scores of deaths across Washington and Greene counties in 2017, although the number of drug overdose deaths were on track to decline in Washington County for the first time in years.

The office of Washington County Coroner Tim Warco said 95 people died from drug overdoses in the county between Jan. 1 and mid-December, down from 109 last year. Seventy-five of the 2017 deaths involved the use of heroin or fentanyl. The office had no explanation for the decrease in such deaths.

Washington County District Attorney Gene Vittone said the county’s aggressive approach to using naloxone to revive overdose victims could help explain the decrease in deaths.

Police and fire departments have administered 280 doses of the opioid antidote since the naloxone program was launched in June 2015. The efforts saved 255 lives, Vittone said.

The number of overdose deaths in Greene County increased by 36 percent in 2016, with 19 people dying from acute combined drug toxicity, compared to 14 overdose deaths the year before. In July, the Observer-Reporter filed a lawsuit against Greene County Coroner Gregory Rohanna seeking access to his office’s complete 2016 annual report after statistics showed the uptick in the number of overdose deaths in the county. That lawsuit remains active, and no information is yet available on how many overdose deaths occurred in Greene County this year.

Meanwhile, emergency medical workers said they were being stretched to their limits by increased calls to revive opioid overdose victims.

And, Washington County sued major drug manufacturers in December, joining many others counties across the state in an attempt to recoup the mounting costs to taxpayers associated with dealing with the epidemic.

The complaint alleges the defendants knew of the addictive qualities of their prescription pain medication, but continued to push the drugs onto patients long after they had left the hospital, where it was better controlled and managed.

It also contends that the county has spent millions of dollars across many departments on the problem, which includes increased demands on law enforcement. 

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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