Opioid-Related Deaths In Maryland Are "Staggering", New Report

Maryland’s opioid crisis is showing limited signs of abating with the latest report highlighting a record number of fentanyl-related deaths.

According to the report, published last week by the Maryland Department of Health, the number of drug and alcohol-related intoxication deaths occurring in the state jumped 9 percent between 2016 and 2017, reaching a record high of 2,282. In fact, this is the seventh consecutive year of increases in the overall rate of substance-related deaths.

Baltimore Business Journal notes that “illegal and prescription opioids” are the primary causes of the opioid crisis in all 24 Maryland counties.

Though heroin-related deaths declined by 134 to 1,078 overall from 2016 in Maryland, fentanyl-related deaths continue to surge, increasing from 1,119 in 2016 to 1,594 in 2017, according to Maryland health officials. The agency’s statistics include deaths in 2017 and the first three months of 2018.

“While Maryland is starting to see a decline in heroin-related deaths, fentanyl-related deaths continue to rise in staggering numbers,” said Maryland Department of Health Secretary Robert R. Neall in a statement.

Neall emphasized that Marylanders with an addiction problem need to “immediately seek treatment” and consult with officials about acquiring naloxone, a drug that is used to reverse an overdose from opioids.

Baltimore Business Journal said data from the first quarter of 2018 showed that there were 653 unintentional drug and alcohol-related intoxication deaths across the state. There were 579 opioid-related deaths, 500 of which involved fentanyl.

The epicenter of the opioid crisis is Baltimore City

State officials say the data shows that fentanyl — considered many times more potent than morphine and heroin — combined with cocaine or heroin is the leading cause in overall overdoses in 2017 and the first quarter of this year.

Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore City Health Commissioner, said: “there is no question we are at a state emergency and a public health crisis here in Baltimore.” She also said fentanyl deaths in Baltimore City had increased 5,000 percent from 2013.

Gary Tuggle, Baltimore Police Department Acting Commissioner, said: “overdose victims…getting younger and younger…as young as 13, 14 years old.”

The report also showed:

  • The number of fatal heroin overdoses in Maryland appears to be decreasing — after increasing each year since 2011. Overdoses involving heroin have decreased since the third quarter of 2017. The percentage of all overdose deaths involving heroin has also decreased from 58 percent of all overdose deaths in 2016 to 36 percent of all overdose deaths in the first quarter of 2018.

  • Prescription drug-related deaths remained relatively flat from 2016 to 2017, dropping by five from 418 to 413. The number of prescription drug-related deaths remained the same in the first quarter of 2018 compared to the same time period in 2017 with 104.

  • Eighty-eight percent of all intoxication deaths that occurred in Maryland in 2017 were opioid-related — heroin, prescription opioids and nonpharmaceutical fentanyl.

  • Statistics show that cocaine-related deaths are also up from 464 in 2016 to 691 in 2017.

  • Baltimore City had by far the most intoxication deaths of any jurisdiction with 761 in 2017.

Dr. Wen said the alarming amount of overdose deaths indicates the strong need for more funding for treatment and the continued stockpiling of naloxone.

“We have not even seen the peak of this epidemic,” Dr. Wen told Baltimore Business Journal in a phone interview last week. “We don’t know what that peak is and when it’s going to be.”

When questioned about Dr. Wen’s concern about the report’s timing, state health officials said “new data, which takes additional time to compile and confirm, has been added to the 2017 report in order to make it more comprehensive. The department continuously modifies the report as additional substances and data sets emerge, in an effort to provide a complete overview of the heroin and opioid epidemic.”

Earlier this month, we revealed how the CDC’s Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report indicated that the third wave of the opioid epidemic is here, as new opioid synthetics that are many more times as potent as morphine and used to tranquilize elephants are attributing to the latest surge in deaths. As for Baltimore, well, Dr. Wen said it best: “We have not even seen the peak of this epidemic,” which means the opioid crisis in Maryland and Baltimore is about to get a whole lot worse.