School of Pharmacy Web Site Tracks Drug-Overdose Data, Aiding Formation of Prevention Strategies

Issue Date: 
February 9, 2015

 The University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy has created a Web site that offers current drug overdose data in Pennsylvania. The site’s goal is to help law enforcement, medical personnel, and public health authorities to form meaningful prevention strategies for substance use disorders—and to develop effective life-saving techniques, when necessary. offers real-time data on overdose fatality cases in Allegheny County and is expanding to additional counties across Pennsylvania. Data includes the type of drug used; the age, gender, and race of the deceased; and maps depicting the density of overdose deaths in different regions. Launched last summer, the Web site is maintained primarily by the staff at the School of Pharmacy’s Program Evaluation Research Unit. Project partners include the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office, U.S. Attorney Hickton’s Office, and seven Single County Authorities across Pennsylvania: Allegheny, Blair, Bucks, Butler, Dauphin, Delaware, and Westmoreland. The Authorities receive county, state, and federal funds to coordinate the delivery of alcohol and other drug prevention services at a local level.

“Overdose deaths are completely preventable, but rates of overdose deaths in Pennsylvania have increased at an alarming rate in recent years,” said Janice L. Pringle, director of the School of Pharmacy’s Program Evaluation Research Unit.  “Along with our project partners, we have created the OverdoseFreePA Web site in order to provide Pennsylvanians with information and resources for recognizing and preventing overdose, including learning about the opiate overdose antidote, naloxone.”

Pennsylvania and many other states have seen a significant increase in the misuse of prescription opioid pain medications, such as OxyContin, Percocet, and Vicodin. When those drugs become too expensive in the illegal market, many turn to heroin, another opioid that is a cheaper substitute. illustrates that trend in its drug- and gender-specific data. In 2014, heroin was the drug used by almost 60 percent of the men and 45 percent of the women who overdosed in Allegheny County.  Those figures are up dramatically from 2008, when heroin was the drug used by about 31 percent of the men and 15 percent of the women who overdosed.

Last fall, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett signed the 911 Good Samaritan Law, which offers limited immunity for certain drug-related crimes to citizens who report an overdose. The law also provides for the distribution of naloxone, an overdose antidote for opioids, to emergency personnel, police, and the friends and family of drug users. data could be used, for example, to determine the areas with the highest need for naloxone, aiding efforts to get the antidote in the hands of anyone who might witness an overdose. The site’s offering of current data distinguishes it from similar resources that may contain older data.

“An extremely important and effective way that a community can address overdose is to survey new deaths that seem to be associated with a new drug—and to get that drug off the street right away,” Pringle said. “That’s one of the really important aspects of real-time overdose death data.” has been met with positive reviews from county and community health administrators.

“It’s a great tool, and it helps us to save resources,” says  Latika Davis-Jones, administrator of the Allegheny County Single County Authority. “Real-time data allows us to more effectively assess planning and decide on future needs.”

With continued funding from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, Pringle will expand the Web site by adding six additional counties, as well as a focus on providing resources for families.