Dixon, Wecht Partner to Target Overdose 'Epidemic'

Article excerpt

Two stalwarts of life and death in Allegheny County joined forces on Tuesday to draw attention to the growing number of accidental drug deaths, but their ongoing job negotiations with the county drew attention as well.

Dr. Cyril H. Wecht acknowledged he is trying to get his job back as Allegheny County's medical examiner, and Dr. Bruce Dixon said he hopes to continue in his post as director of the county health department, a position he has held for the last 20 years. His contract with the county expired in January.

Wecht and Dixon spoke at a news conference about the more than 38,000 people nationwide who die accidentally each year from drug overdoses, including more than 200 such deaths annually in Allegheny County. Overdoses in prescription medication in particular are contributing to the deaths.

"This is a major public health problem, and it's truly, without any hyperbole, an epidemic," Wecht said during the news conference in his Strip District office.

"We are probably better off than other cities our size, but one death is one death too many," said Dixon.

Reversing the trend will require more education for doctors, vigilance by pharmacists and responsibility by drug companies, Wecht and Dixon said. Others have offered similar solutions in recent years.

Yesterday's call to arms was made at a good time for both men, said University of Pittsburgh political communications professor Gerald Shuster.

"I see it as a good strategy on their part to stay in the public eye," Shuster said. …