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The State of Abuse in PA

Drug overdose deaths are increasing in Pennsylvania, which means rehab facilities in PA are working harder than ever to get people the help they need. Researchers have begun studying the rates of overdose deaths for specific races, genders and age groups in order to put together a targeted action plan that can save lives.

The PA Substance Abuse Problem

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in 2014, approximately 717,000 Pennsylvania residents over the age of 12 reported being dependent on or abusing alcohol within the past year. Also, approximately 297,000 PA residents — 2.7% of the state population over the age of 12 — reported struggling with an illicit drug dependency. However, only 6.4% of the individuals suffering from alcohol use disorders and only 17.5% of those suffering from illicit drug use disorders received treatment for their conditions. As the rates of drug use remain high, so too do the rates of alcohol- and drug-related deaths. In 2014, the death rate in Pennsylvania due to drug overdoses was 14 times that in 1979. In particular, the data shows that females, Caucasians and individuals between the ages of 35 and 44 were most at risk. While the overdose rate is the highest among Caucasian males between the ages of 35 and 44, and African American males between the ages of 55 and 64, female overdose rates are increasing faster than any other group. Currently, Pennsylvania is struggling with even more severe overdose rates than other states. While the national average is 110 overdose deaths per day, Pennsylvania is among the 20 states with overdose death rates exceeding that number. Researchers have found that counties surrounding Philadelphia and those located in the southwest and northeast corners of the state have higher rates of death due to drug overdoses. This indicates that substance abuse and the risk of overdose aren’t just urban problems, but spreading into suburban and rural areas as well.

What’s Being Done to Fight Substance Abuse

With such a devastating drug overdose problem throughout the state, public health organizations and rehab facilities in PA are developing new programs to reach those in need. For example, the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy operates the Pennsylvania Heroin Overdose Prevention Technical Assistance Center, which organizes community-level initiatives for reducing opioid use and overdose. In 2014, the center created, a collaboration that brings together public health organizations and communities around Pennsylvania to coordinate overdose prevention and drug recovery events. Other programs throughout Pennsylvania are continuing to fight back against rampant drug availability, use, addiction and overdose, including:

  • Allegheny County Health Department
  • Drug Free Pennsylvania
  • Pennsylvania Department of Health, Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Programs
  • Prevention Point Pittsburgh
  • The Alliance for Safe and Drug-Free Children
  • The Bridge to Hope
  • The Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP)
  • The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency

So far, researchers and law enforcement officials aren’t sure why Pennsylvania is so afflicted with high rates of substance abuse and drug overdose. The demographics, socioeconomic climate and crime rates throughout the state are comparable to other states with lower rates of substance abuse and overdose. However, specialists are continuing to research the phenomenon while rehab facilities in PA continue to help citizens who are struggling to overcome the grip of substance abuse and addiction.


Fuoco, M. A. (2016). Drug overdose deaths skyrocket in Pennsylvania. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2013). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Behavioral Health Barometer: Pennsylvania, 2015. University of Pittsburgh. (2016). OverdoseFreePA.

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