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Much like the rest of the country, the blue-collar city of Pittsburgh has struggled with the opioid epidemic. For many years, the Steel City has seen an increase in both the abuse of opioids as well as the number of people overdosing from these drugs. While much of the country is still struggling to get control of the opioid epidemic, there have recently been huge strides in the number of drug overdose deaths in Pittsburgh.

How Pittsburgh Is Battling Drug Overdoses

In 2018, the number of Pittsburgh drug overdose deaths decreased by more than 40% compared to the year before; this is after reaching a record high of 737 overdose deaths in Allegheny county in 2018.1 These numbers largely help account for the decrease in drug overdose deaths in Pennsylvania in 2018 as other counties did not see nearly as much improvement. So why has Alleghany county been so successful in their fight against the opioid crisis and why has the number of drug overdose death in Pittsburgh decreased so drastically in the course of one year?

While there is no definitive answer to these questions. Pittsburgh is fighting the opioid epidemic through a variety of techniques and preventative campaigns.

Targeting Problem Areas

In order to help the people of Pittsburgh, those living in the most problematic drug areas with the highest rates of drug overdoses need the most attention. In 2017, the Allegheny County Department of Human Services created a list of these areas in order to start focusing their resources to these places. With such dramatic results between 2017 and 2018, it appears that this approach was successful.

Needle Exchange Vans

Instead of traditional locations where addicts have to come for medical care, Pittsburgh has started to send out needle exchange vans to the areas of the city most in need. The van provides clean needles as well as naloxone while also working to educate people on getting treatment. Alice Bell of the Prevention Point van even “asks some of its clients to give syringes and naloxone to friends who won’t come to the vans.”1 These vans make these resources more accessible.

Availability of Naloxone

Naloxone is a life-saving drug that is used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. For many years, advocates have been pushing for the wider distribution of this drug throughout the Pittsburgh area. Specifically, the city has started to give naloxone to those being released from jail as well as those who have already overdosed. There is also a push to equip more police officers with the drug. The hope is that the widespread distribution will continue to save lives and those who are revived will eventually realize that they need help from a formal opioid addiction treatment center.

Promoting Treatment

Along with prevention, the ultimate goal is to get those people who are abusing opioids help and to continue to lower the number of Pittsburgh drug overdose deaths. Most of these campaigns try to educate users on the benefits of treatment and get them to agree to one of these programs.  A medically monitored detox followed by treatment can not only prevent more overdoses but also keep people off of these drugs for good.

As a Pennsylvania addiction treatment center, we know that this change is a step in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go in the battle against opioids. Other parts of the state should look toward Pittsburgh as an example and start implementing some of these techniques into their own communities.

At Clearbrook Treatment Centers, also known as Wilkes-Barre Treatment, we work with many Pennsylvania residents in overcoming their addictions to opioids as well as other drugs. If you or a loved one is looking for help with a substance abuse problem, call us today at 570-536-9621.



  1. Philadelphia Inquirer – Drug overdose deaths dropped 40% last year in the Pittsburgh area. Why can’t Philadelphia do the same?



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