Top health of­fi­cial urges opi­oid users to seek help amid surge in deaths

Over­doses from fen­tanyl re­ported through March have more than dou­bled

The Washington Post Sunday - - COMMUTER - BY RACHEL CHASON rachel.chason@wash­post.com

The num­ber of Mary­land deaths re­lated to fen­tanyl, a pow­er­ful syn­thetic opi­oid, surged in the first quar­ter of 2017, more than dou­bling from the first quar­ter of 2016, and mak­ing up the ma­jor­ity of drug-re­lated over­dose deaths in the state.

Mary­land’s Depart­ment of Health and Men­tal Hy­giene re­ported Fri­day that fen­tanyl-over­dose fa­tal­i­ties jumped to 372 from Jan­uary through March, up from 157 dur­ing the same pe­riod in 2016. Fen­tanyl and a re­lated ad­di­tive, car­fen­tanil, which are in­creas­ingly com­mon na­tion­wide, can be 50 or 100 times more pow­er­ful than heroin.

Many drug-users are un­know­ingly con­sum­ing the syn­thetic opi­oids, which are of­ten mixed into other drugs to in­crease their po­tency, Health Sec­re­tary Dennis Schrader said.

“We im­plore Mary­lan­ders who are grap­pling with sub­stance use dis­or­der and are tak­ing il­licit sub­stances to seek treat­ment im­me­di­ately,” Schrader said in a state­ment. The state has an on­line tool for lo­cat­ing treat­ment cen­ters.

Use of fen­tanyl, the pow­er­ful syn­thetic opi­oid that killed rock leg­end Prince in April, has spiked dra­mat­i­cally in re­cent years. There were eight fen­tanyl-re­lated deaths in Mary­land in the first quar­ter of 2013, which means since then the num­ber has jumped more than 40-fold.

The marked in­crease in use is a key fac­tor in the grow­ing num­ber of opi­oid-re­lated over­doses — which are also tied to the use of heroin and pre­scrip­tion painkillers — in the state.

Deaths from heroin in­creased, but not as dra­mat­i­cally as deaths from fen­tanyl. There were 266 heroin-re­lated deaths in the first quar­ter of 2017, up 21 per­cent from 2016.

The num­ber of pre­scrip­tion opi­oid-re­lated deaths was sim­i­lar this quar­ter com­pared with last — 100 in 2017, com­pared with 99 in 2016.

Opi­oid-re­lated deaths in the state have in­creased ev­ery year since 2012, with more pro­nounced upticks in 2016 and 2017.

Gov. Larry Ho­gan (R), who lost a cousin to a heroin over­dose, has de­clared a state of emer­gency re­gard­ing opi­oid ad­dic­tion. In June, Ho­gan is­sued a stand­ing or­der that al­lowed the over­dosere­ver­sal drug nalox­one, also known by the brand name Nar­can, to be dis­pensed from licensed phar­ma­cies with­out a pre­scrip­tion.

Ho­gan also re­ceived a waiver so be­gin­ning July 1, res­i­dents could be re­im­bursed by the fed­eral Med­i­caid pro­gram for cer­tain res­i­den­tial sub­stance abuse treat­ment pro­grams.

Health of­fi­cials in Bal­ti­more — which re­ported the most drug-re­lated deaths and the most deaths be­cause of fen­tanyl (123 through March, com­pared with 46 at the same time in 2016) — said in June they were run­ning low on nalox­one, which has been used to save hun­dreds of lives in the city.

Bal­ti­more County and Anne Arun­del County re­ported the next high­est fig­ures for fen­tanyl­re­lated deaths.

Prince Ge­orge’s County had the fourth-high­est num­ber of fen­tanyl-re­lated deaths — with 27 in the first quar­ter of 2017, com­pared with four in 2016. Mont­gomery County re­ported 15 fen­tanyl-re­lated deaths com­pared with five in 2016.

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