Unintentional drug and alcohol overdoses increased for the fourth straight year in Carroll County in 2017, and for the seventh year Maryland-wide, according to a report released July 26 by the Maryland Department of Health.
Carroll County saw 55 such deaths in 2017, according to the state Department of Health statistics, which are more comprehensive, but slower to be tabulated and published, than those collected locally by the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office. In January, the Sheriff’s Office reported 48 such deaths in Carroll in 2017.
Per the state statistics, 2017 marked an increase over the 47 deaths recorded in 2016 in Carroll, the 40 deaths in 2015, the 38 deaths in 2014 and 24 deaths in 2013, which marked a slight decrease from the 29 deaths recorded in 2012. In 2011, Carroll saw only eight deaths related to drugs or alcohol, according to the report.
Statewide, there has been a steepening increase in drug and alcohol deaths from 649 in 2010, to 2,282 in 2017, per the report.
That’s an increase that’s been driven largely by opioid drugs — which were implicated in 2,009 deaths statewide in 2017 — and specifically by the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl, which was involved in 1,594 deaths in 2017, often in connection with heroin or cocaine.
In Carroll County, in 2017, opioids accounted for 51 of the 55 deaths recorded, with 28 of those deaths involving heroin, 13 involving prescription opioids and 40 involving heroin — because multiple drugs are often involved in an overdose, the number of deaths attributed to various substances in the report do not add up evenly with the number of total fatalities.
But a trend is still clear: Fentanyl related deaths continue to shoot up — from 20 deaths in 2016 to 40 in 2017 — while prescription opioid drug deaths stayed relatively flat and heroin-related deaths increased modestly. Carroll saw a decrease from 15 to 13 prescription opioid deaths from 2016 to 2017, while heroin-related deaths increased from 25 to 28.
This evolving nature of the opioid drug epidemic, from an addiction crisis involving prescription pain medications, to an overdose crisis driven by black market fentanyl, is a real challenge for local authorities trying to make a difference, according Carroll County State’s Attorney Brian DeLeonardo. Although it can be hard to tell from the grim statistics, he said there have been many success stories in recent years where drug court and other diversion programs have moved users who were committing crimes to support a drug addiction into treatment and recovery.
“But with the sudden rise of extremely powerful drugs we are seeing more people dying before their addiction even leads to criminal conduct to support their habit,” DeLeonardo said. “Many are overdosing before the court system ever gets the chance to get involved in diverting them into treatment.”
For agencies trying to evolve with the nature of the crises, this places an extra emphasis on education and prevention programs, DeLeonardo said, such as the programs his office has been conducting in Carroll County Public Schools, bringing young people in recovery in to talk to students sometimes just a few years younger about their path into addiction and out into recovery.
It’s also the idea behind rebooting the “Heroin Kills” video, a short film produced in Carroll County in the late 1990s as a response to a heroin overdose epidemic of that era.
Linda Auerback, who produced the original “Heroin Kills” video and is now the Carroll County Health Department’s substance use prevention supervisor, and a production team began filming for the new video on Saturday, with a focus on being relevant to the nature of addiction today.
“The story line in the updated new version is a direct result of several focus groups and interviews of Carroll County community members who are in active addiction, abused prescription drugs, are in recovery, family members of those who lost their lives to addiction and input from health teachers and students,” she said. “The new version will not only have a focus on heroin, but prescription drug abuse, fentanyl and what can lead to a downward spiral in a young person’s life.”