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Carroll County overdose deaths far surpass 2017 total

In the first 11 months of the year, the number of fatal drug- and alcohol-related overdose deaths in Carroll County has already surpassed the number seen in 2017.

According to statistics from the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office, there were 67 fatal overdoses involving drugs or alcohol from January through November of this year, compared to 49 in the 12 months of 2017. There were 44 overdose deaths in the January-November period of 2017, making for a 52.3 percent increase, according to the report by Sheriff’s Office Crime Analyst Christine Garvin.

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There are some positive trends in the data, however, as Garvin noted the number of total overdoses — fatal plus nonfatal overdoses — in November, 31, decreased slightly from the 32 seen in October, and significantly when compared with the 66 seen in March, the highest number of overdoses seen in 2018.

Gauging any local trends among long-term data showing a steady increase in overdose deaths can be difficult, but Carroll County Health Officer Ed Singer said there are some other statistics that support a slight roll off in the number of nonfatal overdoses in Carroll County.

“The hospital’s been seeing numbers trending down in their nonfatal overdoses for about the last nine months to a year maybe,” he said. “I am also starting to look at data on EMS dispatches, and in the last couple of months, even those seem to be on a somewhat downward trend. But you do hit spikes every now and again.”

As recently as Dec. 1, EMS alerted the Health Department to the possibility of four overdoses occurring within 24 hours, and the agency put out a special alert, the third so far in 2018, after the first in January and another in October.

“Both the hospital and the EMS dispatches for that period of time were high,” Singer said of the most recent alert. “I’ve generally been seeing one or two nonfatal overdose dispatches on any given day. But when we get a larger number like four or five or six, then we’re looking at putting out information to the public.”

Though it can be difficult to tell if efforts are moving the needle and contributing to lasting downward trends in the overdose statistics, Singer said he does believe progress is being made, especially with prevention efforts. The difficulty lies, he said, in finding a way to measure long-term outcomes on a short-term scale.

“You are going to try and measure outcomes of something where you take a kid that’s in seventh grade and want to know, did it make a difference when they were 25?” Singer said. “How do you measure that?”

The goal of all prevention and harm reduction efforts is reversing the trend of growing overdose deaths, Singer said, and noted that even when that begins to occur, the nature of the drugs in the black market today — often containing unpredictable amounts of powerful synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl — means that localized spikes in overdoses will likely continue regardless of the trend lines.

“People managed their substance use habit in the past and we didn’t have as many deaths as what we’re seeing now. With the drugs that are on the street right now, people are essentially playing Russian Roulette. But that doesn’t necessarily make it easy for them to quit,” Singer said, noting that quitting is as hard as ever, but, “the risk is so much greater.”

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