Maryland sees spike in the number of heroin, fentanyl overdoses

The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene released a rather alarming set of figures last Friday outlining how the number of fatal overdoses attributable to alcohol and drugs in the state hit 528 during the first six months of the year, a 33 percent increase from the same time last year.

What makes these figures all the more alarming is that this increase in fatal overdoses was driven largely by heroin and fentanyl, which is an especially potent type of opioid painkiller that frequently comes in the form of a patch.

Specifically, the numbers show that from January to June of 2014, close to 300 Marylanders died of heroin overdoses and another 114 died of fentanyl overdoses. This constitutes a 46 percent increase in the number of heroin-related deaths and a sevenfold increase in the number of fentanyl-related deaths when compared to the same time last year.

What makes these figures so surprising is that Governor Martin O’Malley has made combating fatal drug overdoses one of his administration’s primary objectives, seeking to lower the overall fatality rate attributable to drugs by as much as 20 percent.

Fortunately, both state officials and law enforcement officials have recognized the gravity of the situation and are taking steps outside of just increased incarceration.

To that end, they have launched a public information campaign, recognized the increased risk of fatal heroin overdoses among those recently released from prison or jail, distributed the overdose-stopping drug naloxone to the necessary parties, and started giving incarcerated pregnant women with addiction issues priority for placement in treatment programs.

While these efforts are laudable, it’s important for state officials and lawmakers to understand that they will likely need to be expanded. For instance, many people arrested for heroin possession would perhaps be better served by receiving the necessary treatment rather than simply being incarcerated and released back into the same circumstances.

If you have been arrested on drug charges — possession, distribution, trafficking — consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible to ensure your rights and your freedom are protected.

Source: The Washington Post, “Fatal heroin and fentanyl overdoses rise in Maryland,” Susan Svrluga, Nov. 7, 2014

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