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March 11, 2016

Study: 'Telescoping' phenomenon contributes to spike in women's overdose deaths

PA study: 'telescoping' possible cause

A report out of the University of Pittsburgh released Thursday found that accidental drug poisonings – or overdoses – in Pennsylvania have risen "14-fold" in the past 30 years. 

According to the study, the demographic to see the sharpest increase in overdose deaths were white women ages 35 to 44.

While overdose rates for males in Pennsylvania remain higher than those for females, the study shows there has been a sharper rise in fatality rates among women, possibly due to to a behavioral pattern know as "telescoping."

The U.S. National Library of Medicine describes telescoping as the "accelerated progression" from the beginning of drug use to when a user is considered dependent on the drug. It also says studies typically show telescoping behavior "among women for opioids, cannabis, and alcohol" and says women can show signs of dependance despite having used less of a substance – or for a shorter period of time – than men.

Dr. Jeanine Buchanich, co-author of the study and deputy director of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health’s Center for Occupational Biostatistics and Epidemiology, said that the six month study also found that Pennsylvania has the seventh highest rate of overdose deaths in the county. 

West Virginia, she said, has the highest rate of overdose fatalities nationwide. 

For comparison, Buchanich said, in 1979, Pennsylvania had the 39th highest rate of fatalities due to overdose. 

The areas of the state with the highest rates of accidental drug poisonings in the state are in southwestern Pennsylvania, areas in Northeast Pennsylvania near Scranton and communities surrounding Philadelphia, the report states. 

Overall in 1979, there were 134 deaths due to drug overdoses in the state, but the report shows, by 2014, the number had increased to 2,458 overdose deaths statewide. 

University of Pittsburgh study shared on PLOS ONE/for PhillyVoice

This slide from a recent study done by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh shows fatality rates due to drug overdoses in Pennsylvania, organized by age, race and sex, over the past three decades.

As detailed in an article in the Philadelphia Daily News, this means Pennsylvania's rate of deaths due to overdose has "exceeded the national average by more than 50-percent in recent years." Nationwide, the overdose fatality rate rose six-times during the same period, that article notes.

In fact, the report says that the leading cause of accidental death in PA is drug overdose. 

"In 2008, accidental poisonings overtook motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, with more than 41,000 deaths," the report notes. 

Finally, the study indicates that the overdose antidote, Narcan, has had an impact on overdose deaths throughout the state in the past few years. In fact, as of September 2015, the report says that Narcan has been used to save the lives of 302 Pennsylvanians last year alone.

The report was done in an effort to analyze the rate of accidental drug poisoning deaths throughout the state and countrywide.