Accidental Deaths in Pennsylvania Rise 15% in One Year, Driven By Opioid Overdose

Accidental Deaths in Pennsylvania Rise 15% in One Year, Driven By Opioid Overdose

Pittsburgh is the first stop on the National Safety Council opioid memorial tour.

​Pittsburgh – According to National Safety Council analysis of federal data, 1,086 more Pennsylvanians died accidentally in 2016, an increase of 15% over 2015, and 78% of those deaths were caused by opioid overdose. In response to the epidemic – recently declared a statewide disaster emergency by Gov. Tom Wolf – the Council made Pittsburgh its first stop on a nationwide tour of the NSC exhibit, Prescribed to Death: A Memorial to the Victims of the Opioid Crisis.

The memorial exhibit is one of several components of the Council's Stop Everyday Killers campaign, a national effort to help educate Americans about the risks of taking opioids and put a face on the thousands killed from prescription opioid overdose. More than 4,000 people died from a drug overdose in Pennsylvania – a staggering number, especially in light of NSC survey results that show Americans living in the Northeast region of the U.S. may have a better understanding of how to solve opioid misuse than residents of other regions, though more education clearly is needed.

"The Stop Everyday Killers campaign brings people face to face with the crisis that has taken far too many friends and family members in Pennsylvania," said NSC President and CEO Deborah A.P. Hersman. "One in four has been directly impacted by opioids, but we all can play a role in saving lives. The memorial encourages consumers to do two simple things: talk with their health care providers about opioids and clean out their medicine cabinets."

The Prescribed to Death exhibit includes a memorial wall made of 22,000 small white pills, each carved with a human face, representing the 22,000 lost to prescription opioid overdose in 2015. Visitors will receive first-of-their-kind Opioid Warn-Me labels for insurance and pharmacy cards in an effort to prompt a critical conversation between patients and prescribers about risks and possible alternatives. One in three Americans prescribed an opioid in the prior three years did not realize the medicine they were taking was an opioid, according to the NSC survey.

While most survey responses were consistent across all regions of the country, residents in the Northeast region – Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont – were more likely to:

  • Have heard of naloxone (70% versus 55% nationwide), a drug used to counteract an overdose
  • Understand naloxone is simple to use (38% versus 29%)
  • Know that naloxone is available without a prescription (16% to 11%)
  • Confidently know which types of substance use treatments or medications work best for opioid misuse (36% versus 29%)

Unfortunately, 26% of Northeast region respondents said they would improperly throw their old medicines away or flush them down the toilet, versus only 8% of respondents elsewhere. Incorrect disposal of medications can lead to the medications falling into the wrong hands or polluting the environment. In an effort to help Americans properly dispose of unused medicines, NSC partnered with Stericycle to provide pre-paid Seal&Send envelopes to memorial visitors so they can mail back old drugs safely.

Prescribed to Death, housed in the lower level of the William Pitt Student Union, is free and open to the public from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Jan. 30-Feb. 1, and from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Feb. 2. Visit stopeverydaykillers.org for information about the campaign. The "Opioids: Warn Me" labels and the Seal&Send envelopes are available at no charge at nsc.org/takeaction. For more about the Council's prescription opioid initiative, please visit nsc.org/rxpainkillers.

About the National Safety Council

The National Safety Council is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to eliminate preventable deaths at work, in homes and communities, and on the road through leadership, research, education and advocacy. Founded in 1913 and chartered by Congress, NSC advances this mission by partnering with businesses, government agencies, elected officials and the public in areas where we can make the most impact.

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