Cambria coroner’s office partners with state

Pair will track fentanyl-related overdose deaths

CRESSON — The Cambria County Coroner’s Office can now partner with the state Department of Health in an attempt to track fentanyl-related overdose deaths after Thursday’s approval by the county commissioners.

And later that day, Chief Deputy Coroner Joe Hribar revealed that there have been fewer overdose deaths this year than in the two years prior.

“It’s because of, I believe, naloxone and education awareness,” he said, making reference to the drug naloxone, which, when administered, can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

With a pair of votes Thursday, commissioners decided unanimously to OK a data sharing agreement between the coroner’s office and the Department of Health while also approving a “work statement” between the organizations.

That work statement, in the amount of $10,000, amounts to a compensation agreement between the two organizations, county solicitor Bill Barbin said.

“The Department of Health will provide $10,000,” Barbin said. “The coroner will provide information he already has on opioid deaths, and there will be some additional testing for fentanyl components because they want to track exactly what kind of stuff is out there killing people.”

Later, Hribar elaborated, explaining the coroner’s office is only in the “early stage of applying for the grant.”

Department of Health spokesman Nate Wardle called the agreement with Cambria County “part of a statewide initiative to work with coroners and medical examiners … to get a more real-time picture of fatal overdoses in Pennsylvania.”

“This will assist us in combatting the opioid epidemic … allowing the state to view where fatal overdoses are occurring,” Wardle said. “Knowing the locations … where fatal overdoses are occurring will help us to allocate funding from federal grants and from Gov. (Tom) Wolf’s disaster declaration to assist those in need.”

Educating community members in those areas, Hribar said, played a large part in reducing the number of overdose deaths in 2018.

As of Thursday, that number sat at 40 confirmed deaths.

“It’s actually on the lower end,” Hribar said.

The number is down from 90-plus in 2016 and 80-plus in 2017, he said.

When there is a suspected overdose death in Cambria County, officials at the coroner’s office conduct tests capable of detecting 600 responsible substances, Hribar said. That includes fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid.

Hribar said separate tests also are done for “synthetic fentanyl derivatives.”

“Fentanyl-related deaths are on the rise,” he said.

Mirror Staff Writer Sean Sauro is at 946-7535.

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