Incidence of Heroin Fatalities Actually Much Higher Than First Thought

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

By Zachary Siegel of

The latest statistics have revealed that heroin-related deaths nearly quadrupled in the last 13 years. But experts say that state-by-state statistics are leaving out hundreds of cases of opioid overdose deaths as a result of vague details on death certificates, making the figures much higher than previously thought.

In Pennsylvania, for instance, where it is estimated opioids killed at least 1,300 people last year, there is no requirement for coroners to report the specific details of drug overdoses. What happens is death certificates will read “accidental multiple drug toxicity” and will therefore not be counted as a heroin-related death, even though heroin could be one of the drugs involved.

In an NPR report, Stacy Emminger of Pennsylvania showed her son Anthony’s death certificate. He was addicted to heroin and that’s what killed him, she said. But on his death certificate there is no note of him doing heroin, only the vague phrase, "immediate cause of death is multiple drug toxicity, accidental.”

Anthony and likely hundreds of others will not be counted among heroin-related deaths as long as coroners continue not to specify chemicals on death certificates. Read the entire article on