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Editorial: Mac Miller represents PA overdoses

November 30, 2018

It was exactly what people thought happened.

Mac Miller died of an overdose of cocaine, fentanyl and alcohol, according to the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office.

Sadly, the Pittsburgh native rapper was just one person in a sea of similar results this year. The numbers keep growing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, drug overdoses aren’t just increasing. They are increasing at a terrifying rate.

Earlier this year, the CDC released its most recent hard data -- numbers for 2015-16 for 31 states and the District of Columbia.

Overall, drug overdose death rates went up 21.5 percent. For every five deaths in 2014, there were six in that target window.

The largest increase in opioid deaths? Men between 25 and 44 years old. Just like Miller.

Cocaine-related overdoses were up 52.4 percent. Fentanyl deaths doubled, too.

Miller died in California, but he hailed from Pennsylvania, noted as one of the states with a “statistically significant increase” in overdose rates.

Miller was, in many ways, representative of the statistical victim of the opioid crisis.

In one important way, he was not.

When Miller died in September, various websites that track celebrity net worth pegged his estate at between $3 million and $14 million. Even by the most conservative estimate, Miller could afford to get help. He struggled with addiction for years and was open about his drug use -- and his attempts at sobriety.

No matter how much money you have, getting help with addiction is never easy, but access to help does smooth the road. For many dealing with what Forbes called a “crisis unlike anything we have seen in medicine since the HIV epidemic in the 1990s,” the ability to get help is just not that simple.

In October, the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 was passed by Congress, making it possible for states to get treatment for more people with the help of Medicaid to pay for residential treatment and Medicare to pick up the check for senior citizens’ methadone.

That could have a real impact in Southwestern Pennsylvania, where 12,355 Allegheny County residents with opioid use disorders were covered by Medicaid in 2016. In Westmoreland County, there were 4,428. Add in the nine surrounding counties in the region, and you have 31,279 people covered by Medicaid fighting opioid addiction, according to information available from the state’s Opioid Data Dashboard.

That helps, but Gov. Tom Wolf and state lawmakers have noted that even when there is money -- public or private -- to pay for a bed, one of Pennsylvania’s biggest problems is having enough help to go around.

And so it leaves Miller as a poster boy in another way -- another Pennsylvanian with a problem everyone could see and no one could do anything about.

It has to change.

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