Maryland sees heroin deaths triple
Fifth worst in country
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.