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How many opiates are prescribed in Cumberland County?

As the Midstate remains in the midst of a growing overdose epidemic, some focus has shifted to reducing the number of opiates prescribed to patients.

Like many counties in the area, Cumberland County has seen a decrease in the prescribing of opiates.

The most up-to-date and readily available data for county-level prescribing of opiates is from 2016 and comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2016, opiates were prescribed to patients at a rate of 69.4 per 100 people in the county, according to the CDC.

This equates to roughly 169,200 pills in Cumberland County.

That is down from about 195,400 pills in 2013 when the rate in Cumberland County was 82.3 per 100 people, according to the CDC.

However, the reduction of prescription opiates may have contributed to a rise in overdose deaths.

As prescribing was pared back in the county, overdose deaths rose sharply beginning in 2014, according to county records.

Overdose deaths in the county went from 28 in 2013 to more than 60 in 2016 and eclipsed 80 last year, according to Cumberland County Coroner Charley Hall.

The rise in overdose deaths was highly correlated to the reduction in opiate prescription opiates, according to an analysis conducted by The Sentinel.

One theory is that as prescription opiates became more scares and more expensive in the illicit market, more dangerous drugs like heroin and now fentanyl replaced them.

In February, Pennsylvania Options for Wellness Chief Medical Officer Dr. Carrie DeLone, former physician general under Gov. Tom Corbett, told The Sentinel that a rise in heroin deaths was an expected outcome from the state instituting policies like a prescription drug monitoring program to reduce over-prescribing opiates.

“The initial problem is that we have people who are addicted and now we are not giving them as many pharmaceutical-grade painkillers, so they are moving to heroin,” she said in February.

DeLone said the moves to reduce over-prescribing though were necessary to stop the number of people addicted to opiates from growing.

“It’s not always good to be right,” she said in February. “Unfortunately, we have seen an increase in heroin overdose deaths since we’ve instituted some mechanisms to decrease that abuse. That doesn’t mean these weren’t the right decisions.”

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Email Joshua Vaughn at jvaughn@cumberlink.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Sentinel_Vaughn.