Maryland health officials said Wednesday that 383 people died of overdoses in the first three months of the year, showing the challenge of curbing drug abuse across the state.
There were 318 fatal overdoses in the first quarter of last year and 1,259 total last year, nearly doubling from 2010, according to data from the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Van T. Mitchell, state health secretary, attributed the continued number of deaths to opioids, such as prescription painkillers and illicit drugs including heroin. He said in some case, people who thought they were using heroin were actually using the far stronger drug fentanyl.
"Fentanyl is significantly more potent than heroin and is being added – sometimes secretly – to other drugs," he said. "No illicit drug is safe. We need people to choose treatment before their next craving for a high hits. These overdose data show it is just too easy to die from using drugs today. There's no other way to read the data."
Baltimore City was among a few jurisdictions where overdose deaths went down in the first quarter of 2016 compared with the same quarter last year, according to the state's report. Deaths were also down in Carroll, Montgomery, Garrett, Kent, Somerset and Washington counties.
A analysis by the Baltimore health department found that heroin related deaths were down 24 percent. Those related to prescriptions were down about 16 percent and those linked to fentanyl were down about 7.5 percent. All overdose deaths were down close to 8 percent.
The state has been working with federal and local health officials to reduce fatal overdoses by drawing attention to the affects of fentanyl and by pushing out doses of naloxone, which reverses the effects of opioids.
Baltimore City and the state have standing prescriptions that allow anyone to get the drug from a health department or pharmacy without a written order once they have been trained to use it. Nearly 23,000 people have been certified, according to state health officials.
State health officials also have been seeking to educate doctors and other prescribers about addiction and asking them to steer away from addictive opioids for chronic pain. They also have asked hospitals and doctors' offices to screen people for substance abuse and provide intervention. There is an outreach program for overdose survivors help direct them to treatment or support services.
Prescription drugs also are now monitored through a central reporting system.