In 2018, drug and alcohol overdoses continued to reflect recent trends in Carroll County — the growth in the overall number of overdoses has slowed and the number of heroin-related overdoses has decreased, while the number of fatalities related to powerful synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, is still rising.
According to a report released Tuesday, Jan. 8, by the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office, overdoses from all causes grew 0.4 percent for 2018 compared with 2017, with 513 overdoses in 2018 and 511 in 2017. Retrospective data in the report shows a large jump in overall overdoses between 2015, when there were 241, and 2016, when there were 412, according to Sheriff’s Office statistics.
That rate of increase has slowed in the years since, with 511 overdoses total in 2017 and 513 in 2018.
Total heroin overdoses fell 10.3 percent in 2018 compared with 2017, with 217 total heroin related overdoses rather than 242.
But fatal overdoses have continued to rise in Carroll, with 71 deaths recorded by the Sheriffs Office, a number that could be raised pending the results of investigations by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
Those fatalities, as has been the case for several years, are driven by the presence of fentanyl in street drugs. While the 71 fatalities represent a 44.9 percent increase over the 49 deaths seen in 2017, according to an analysis by Sheriff’s Office crime analyst Christine Garvin, heroin-related fatalities decreased 31.6 percent, from 19 in 2017, to 13 in 2018.
Fentanyl-related deaths, meanwhile, saw a 43 percent increase, from 35 such deaths in 2017, to 50 in 2018.
“If you looked at those numbers and you didn’t have the fentanyl, you would say it’s stabilized,” said Carroll County State’s Attorney Brian DeLeonardo. “The problem that we have is the number of fatal overdoses and that is entirely driven by the substance.”
The nature of the drugs flowing into Carroll County have evolved, DeLeonardo said, and that is forcing law enforcement officials to evolve their efforts in response.
“When I came in, I did a lot of things to help divert those in the court system that were dealing with addiction issues. To offer them drug court, to offer them treatment. But the problem is we’re not even seeing that in the court system as much anymore,” he said. “The reason is people are dying before they ever get to drug court.”
Having launched in 2007, drug court, which provides criminal offenders with addiction issues an option for treatment over incarceration, the number of people entering the program peaked in fiscal year 2016, with 40, according to statistics provided by drug court Coordinator Dena Black. Those numbers dropped to 33 in FY17, 27 in FY18 and, for FY19 accounted for through Nov. 9, there had been 20 people who entered the program.
With a court system geared for chronic users, DeLeonardo said his office and other officials are now looking ways to keep people from using drugs that may contain fentanyl — which has even begun to show up in other substances, such as cocaine, he said — whether it be prevention or enhanced enforcement efforts against large dealers.
“We all recognize there is a huge health component and a treatment component and an intervention component that is needed to help deal with people that are caught up in addiction,” he said.
“But the problem is there is often not even the chance to help. I think it’s incumbent upon law enforcement to target those who are putting out this kind of poison. This is terrible stuff. We have people who are selling stuff they know is killing people and they keep selling it.”
In 2019, efforts to find networks of drug suppliers operating in Carroll will be enhanced with new statistical software, according to DeLeonardo.
Carroll is one of three Maryland jurisdictions, in addition to Anne Arundel County and Baltimore City, to receive crime statistics software through the Maryland Criminal Information Network. The software will take in all kinds of information, from arrest records to phone numbers, and make connections between, say, six people who have overdosed in Carroll and a phone number in Baltimore City.
“If you look at the evolution of law enforcement, what you’re seeing is an increasing recognition that using proper data, instead of just having your hunches and what you think is happening, crunching the data and letting that drive your investigative efforts,” DeLeonardo said. “We literally just got it and are in the process of establishing all of that.”