Carroll County fatal drug and alcohol overdoses in the first six months of 2019 dropped by half compared with the first six months of 2018, a sign of potential respite in what had been year-over-year increases in deaths.
According to a report from the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office, there were 23 drug- and/or alcohol-related deaths from January through June this year, compared with 46 such deaths in that same time period in 2018.
Heroin-related deaths decreased from seven to four, and fentanyl-related deaths plummeted from 26 to nine, the latter representing a more than 65% decrease for the first half of 2019 compared to the first half of 2018.
The total number of overdoses — that is, those that were nonfatal in addition to those that were fatal — also decreased in the first half of 2019 as compared with that same time period in 2018.
There were 293 overdoses in total from January through June in 2018, and a total of 194 from January through June this year, an almost 34% decrease, according to the report. The year-over-year decrease in total heroin-related overdoses was 121 to 72.
June 2019 also had the lowest number of total overdoses, at 34, for any June since 2015, when there were just 14; June 2016 saw 39 overdoses, June 2017 had 41 and June 2018 saw 42 total overdoses.
But as some officials noted with regards to overdose numbers in May, which also showed a decrease compared with recent years, it might be too soon to generalize a larger, permanent trend in overdose numbers. Carroll County Health Officer Ed Singer told the Times last month that while he was of course pleased to see a decrease in numbers, “I am certainly not ready to claim victory and move on.”
Even if there is a larger trend forming, Singer noted that the presence of the potent synthetic opioid drug fentanyl in the heroin supply has continually led to difficult-to-predict spikes in overdoses.
June, for instance, also saw an increase in total overdoses compared with May — a 13% jump from 30 to 34 — and an increase in fatal overdoses from two deaths in May to three in June.
And there are limitations with the Sheriff’s Office data set.
It might not record overdoses where law enforcement was not involved, such as in situations where the opioid antidote naloxone was administered by a friend or family member and the victim was never taken to a hospital.
And while the Sheriff’s Office reports are released more frequently, they are not as complete as investigations by the Maryland Department of Health, which compiles the final results from investigations into deaths by the Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
And so local officials will continue to push a message about the dangers of opioid use in an era of fentanyl, even as they hope for the best. As Carroll County Sheriff Jim DeWees told the Times last month, “We will continue to pound the message into people’s heads — this will kill you — and do everything possible to get people into treatment so they are not statistics.”