Drugs Rank as Western Pennsylvania's Top Killer

By Cato, Jason | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, July 12, 2010 | Go to article overview

Drugs Rank as Western Pennsylvania's Top Killer


Cato, Jason, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


James "Tinny" Trasp was motionless and blue in a chair at his wife's makeup stand in their Jefferson Hills bedroom. His wife, Toni, frantically pumped his chest in a futile attempt to restart his heart. A syringe lay nearby.

"Somewhere along the way he started using intravenous drugs," said Toni Trasp, recalling that afternoon of July 25, 2008. "I didn't know about it. I had no clue."

To outsiders, Trasp, 49, a father of two, seemed unlikely to die of a drug overdose. He was white, middle-aged, an iron worker who lived in Jefferson Hills, a middle-class South Hills suburb.

Yet a computer-assisted examination by the Tribune-Review of Allegheny County Medical Examiner records from 2006 through 2008 reveals the circumstances of Trasp's death are not unusual.

Drug overdoses killed about 650 people in that period -- more than murders and car crashes combined, records show. That does not include 70 drug-related suicides during that time.

The drugs most often involved came from the medicine cabinet, not street corners.

"If it's not blunt-force trauma, not homicide and not an obvious suicide, I almost just assume it's going to be a drug overdose," said Dr. Karl Williams, the county medical examiner. "That's how frequent of an experience it is here."

The perception that drug addiction and deaths largely affect inner-city black men couldn't be further from the truth, Williams said.

The Tribune-Review analysis shows:

2 of 3 deaths involved at least one prescription drug.

4 of 5 victims were white.

7 of 10 were men.

2 of 3 victims lived in the suburbs.

Between 1990 and 2006, prescriptions for painkillers nationwide increased tenfold, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Overdose deaths increased about fivefold during that same span, the CDC reported.

"There is no real mystery here of where (the overdose deaths are) coming from," Williams said. "It's in exact correlation with the prescribing of these drugs."

Fatal overdoses here have quadrupled since the 1980s, when the county averaged 58 a year. Drug deaths topped 100 for the first time in 1998; four years later, the figure doubled to more than 200 annually. It has not dropped below since.

Drugs and suburbs

Twenty-five years ago, it was rare for a National Honor Society student from an upper-middle-class family or a 45-year-old accountant with an MBA to fatally overdose, said Dr. Neil Capretto, medical director of Gateway Rehabilitation Center, which has 20 locations in Western Pennsylvania and Ohio.

"Now, it is commonplace," he said.

Nearly 7 million Americans abuse prescription drugs -- "more than the number who are abusing cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, ecstasy and inhalants combined," according to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

Between 1992 and 2008, the percentage of people 50 and older seeking drug-abuse treatment nearly doubled, according to a recent study from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Alcohol still leads admissions, but sharp increases were seen in the number of people seeking treatment for heroin, cocaine and marijuana, the study noted.

Hydrocodone, which includes the name-brand drug Vicodin, is the most-commonly abused pharmaceutical in the United States, according to the DEA.

It ranked fourth locally on the list of most-common painkillers discovered by toxicologists in medical examiner's cases, trailing methadone, oxycodone and fentanyl.

Those narcotics are manufactured to mimic pain-numbing properties found in opium, the source of heroin. Once metabolized by the body, heroin turns into morphine. Such was the case for Trasp.

A combination of hydrocodone and morphine was found in Trasp's body, a toxicology report showed.

"We now have a record number of people addicted to heroin in Western Pennsylvania, and the majority started on prescription drugs," said Capretto, who estimates he has treated more than 1,000 people who became heroin addicts after starting with narcotic painkillers. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Drugs Rank as Western Pennsylvania's Top Killer
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.