Mixed picture for drug deaths in Carroll in first half of 2017

Fatal drug and alcohol overdoses in Carroll County increased roughly 81 percent over the first six months of 2017 over that same period in 2016, according to new statistics released Tuesday by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

That increase in fatalities was due in large measure to the still swelling number of deaths connected to the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl, which is significantly more potent than heroin and often laced into it.


There were 29 deaths related to any drug or alcohol in Carroll between January and the end of June, compared with 16 over the same six months in 2016, which had seen a slight decrease from the 19 deaths in the first six months of 2015.

Breaking the statistics down by individual substance reveals a more complicated picture, with the growth in deaths related to some substances slowing relative to others.

Heroin-related deaths, while still trending up, grew less steeply in Carroll in the first six months of 2017, seeing 14 such deaths compared with 13 in the same period in 2016. That 7.7 percent increase is a slight tapering off from the 62 percent growth in heroin-related deaths seen from the first six months of 2015, which saw eight such deaths.

Deaths related to fentanyl, however, continued to rise, and rise steeply. In Carroll, there were three fentanyl-related deaths in the first six months of 2015, four in the first six months of 2016, and 24 deaths in the first half of 2017 — a 500 percent increase over last year.

The Maryland Health Department counts every death where a given drug was present as a death “Related” to that drug, so a single person’s death could count as both a heroin and fentanyl death.

This disparity between the two substances is still driving overdose fatality numbers, despite some progress having been made, according to Carroll County Health Officer Ed Singer.

“One of the things that stands out to me is our overall deaths are up by [13] this year, but how many of those are attributed to fentanyl?” he said. “Fentanyl deaths are up by 20 and our overall number of overdose deaths are [29].”

These trends fit with the overall trend statewide, where a decrease in the growth in heroin-related fatal overdoses — 586 in the first six months of 2017 to 579 in the same time frame in 2016 — has stunted the growth of deaths from all substances. Fentanyl-related deaths, meanwhile, grew from 469 deaths across Maryland in the first six months of 2016 to 799 in the first six months of 2017.

“I do think we are making an impact. The problem is when you look at the deaths continuing to increase, it’s discouraging to everybody,” Singer said. “People are dying because the drugs out there are far more dangerous than they ever used to be.”

The Carroll County Sheriff’s Office also keeps track of overdoses in the county, providing more current, if less certain statistics than the state Health Department — the Sheriff’s Office numbers can change pending later confirmation of a drug-related death by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

According to that count, Carroll County has seen 37 drug- and alcohol-related fatalities through the end of September, 10 more deaths than this same time last year.

Additionally, unlike the Maryland Health Department, the Sheriff’s Office also counts nonfatal overdoses, of which there were 354 from January through September this year. There were 255 over the same timespan in 2016.

What is clear is that for whatever shifts within drug fatality trends may exist, there are still a great number of people overdosing in Carroll. And a need for action. That is the position of Carroll County Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, who recently proposed several pieces of legislation he would like to see the Carroll delegation take to the General Assembly in 2018.

These bills would require mandatory counseling for those leaving drug detox programs, mandatory counseling for people prescribed opioid maintenance medications such as methadone or buprenorphine/Suboxone, and a mandatory 12-hour hold in the hospital for people sent there by overdosing.


It is the 12-hour hold, similar to an involuntary psychiatric hold, that is controversial, something Frazier recognizes.

“The fact is, if someone tries to commit suicide, they can be held up to 72 hours for evaluation,” he said. “Now the way things are today, with fentanyl and other things that are put into opioids, chances are that is self-destructive behavior itself. You are taking that chance.”

The hope, Frazier said, is that during the 12-hour hold, some form of counseling could be arranged, an intervention that might possibly direct that person who overdosed into some form of long-term treatment.

“It they get up from being revived from an overdose and just walk away, there is no chance to do anything; there’s no chance for intervention and the cycle just repeats,” he said. “We have to do something different than what we have been doing.”

The state has also set aside $4 million in fiscal year 2018 for use by opioid intervention teams in Maryland’s 23 counties and Baltimore City; $138,068 will go to the Carroll County Health Department to help set up a mobile crisis team.

A mobile crisis intervention would pair peer counselors and a social worker who would be available in evening hours when someone is found in a mental health crisis, which is often tied up with substance abuse issues, Singer previously told the Times.

“It’s a direct linkage for getting people into services,” he said in an interview. “The peers are the ones that can speak the language and they make a connection with the folks going through these difficult times.”

Rather than someone in a mental health crisis being picked up by police and then released back on the street, the hope, Singer said, is that the crisis team can help get them into treatment for both that mental health issue and any co-occuring addictions.

Given the state funding, crisis services could be available in Carroll within months, according to Singer.

“We are reviewing proposals received for crisis services and are hoping to award a contract very soon and have services up and running by Jan. 1,” he said.