Mary­land sees heroin deaths triple

Fifth worst in coun­try

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY HAN­NAH LANG

AN­NAPO­LIS | Bar­bara Allen signs her emails with the names of her fam­ily mem­bers she has lost to ad­dic­tion — Jim’s mom, Bill’s sis­ter, Amanda’s aunt.

Her son Jim died from a heroin and al­co­hol over­dose in 2003 af­ter bat­tling sub­stance abuse dis­or­der for 22 years.

“What I found re­ally an­noyed me and made me an­gry was there was so lit­tle sup­port, and in fact peo­ple didn’t have to con­tinue to die,” said Ms. Allen, who lives in Howard County.

In Mary­land, heroin-re­lated deaths tripled from 2011 to 2015, ris­ing from 247 to 748, ac­cord­ing to the Mary­land Depart­ment of Health and Men­tal Hy­giene.

The death rate from drug over­doses in the state is the fifth-worst in the coun­try, and it’s only likely to get worse, ex­perts say.

In the early 2000s, the pop­u­lar­ity of heroin and opi­oids as il­le­gal nar­cotics soared in Mary­land around the same time as over­dose deaths due to drugs or al­co­hol be­gan to in­crease, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion.

“If you go back to 2006 and 2007, it was most no­table here where the con­ver­sa­tion in­ter­nally to the [sher­iff’s depart­ment] re­ally be­gan be­cause of over­dose deaths from opi­ate painkillers,” said Tim Cameron, the sher­iff of St. Mary’s County and a mem­ber of the Gov­er­nor’s Heroin and Opi­oid Emer­gency Task Force in 2015.

When the epi­demic first be­gan, most of the peo­ple dy­ing from over­doses were young, white and in the mid­dle and up­per classes, but that trend soon gave way to in­clude almost all de­mo­graphic and so­cio-eco­nomic groups, Sher­iff Cameron said.

“It pretty much af­fects ev­ery­one,” said Sgt. Johnny Mur­ray with the Hager­stown Po­lice Depart­ment. “It’s just [a re­sult of] the pill epi­demic, when that was un­con­trolled and peo­ple were be­ing able to ‘doc­tor shop’ and go to four or five dif­fer­ent doc­tors and get these pow­er­ful nar­cotics.”

Of­ten af­ter peo­ple get ad­dicted to pre­scrip­tion opi­oid painkillers, they turn to heroin, which is cheaper and pro­vides a sim­i­lar high, said Sgt. Mur­ray.

In Wash­ing­ton County, state Del­e­gate Brett Wil­son, a Hager­stown Re­pub­li­can who also served on the Gov­er­nor’s Heroin and Opi­oid Emer­gency Task Force, said peo­ple in almost all de­mo­graphic groups are dy­ing from heroin and opi­oid over­doses.

“With our pa­tients, they were of­ten com­pletely un­aware that the heroin or some­times even just the pills that they were us­ing had fen­tanyl in it,” said Dr. Yngvild Olsen, med­i­cal di­rec­tor of an out­pa­tient pro­gram in Bal­ti­more.

Fen­tanyl, a syn­thetic opi­oid 25 to 40 times more po­tent than heroin, has re­cently seen a surge in pop­u­lar­ity be­cause it takes less time to cre­ate and can eas­ily be blended into heroin, said Dr. Olsen, the pres­i­dent of the Mary­land As­so­ci­a­tion for Treat­ment of Opi­oid De­pen­dence.

Be­cause of its po­tency, users re­quire less of the drug to get the same ef­fect as heroin, which makes peo­ple who in­ject fen­tanyl more sus­cep­ti­ble to over­doses. Fen­tanyl-re­lated deaths have dou­bled dur­ing the first six months of 2016 com­pared to the same pe­riod in 2015, ac­cord­ing to the Mary­land Depart­ment of Health and Men­tal Hy­giene.

Ar­rest trends in Mary­land have shown that for at least the last five years, at least 4,000 to 5,000 more peo­ple be­tween the ages of 20 and 24 were ar­rested for drug abuse vi­o­la­tions than those in the next old­est age group — peo­ple aged 25-29.

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