Carroll County saw a 76 percent increase in fatal drug and alcohol overdoses in the first six months of 2018 over the first half of 2017.
That’s according to new statistics from the Carroll County’s Sheriff’s Office, which recorded 44 overdose deaths from January through June this year. There were 25 such fatalities recorded in the first six months of 2017, and 48 in all of 2017, according to Sheriff’s Office statistics.
Those statistics are still being updated, Sheriff’s Office Crime Analyst Christine Garvin noted in an email, as the June 2018 count does not include a pending report from the Maryland State Police, while the causes of some deaths have yet to be resolved by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
As the data stand, Carroll saw two deaths related to prescription opioid drugs from January through June, seven deaths related to heroin, 16 related to the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl, seven attributed to other drugs and 12 that were still pending analysis by the medical examiner.
There were seven fatalities in the month of June, though that number may rise with the addition of state police data, an increase over the five deaths in May and four in April. March 2018, however, remains the deadliest month recorded by the Sheriff’s Office in terms of overdose deaths, with 11 fatalities.
Keeping with a trend persistent across several years of data, deaths due to prescriptions opioids have remained low, deaths related to heroin have stayed flat or slightly decreased, while deaths related to fentanyl have increased: There were nine heroin-related deaths in the first half of 2017, and seven in the first half of 2018; 14 fentanyl-related deaths in the first half of 2017, and 16 in that same period this year.
This is a frustrating trend for those working to combat the addiction epidemic, according to Carroll County Health Officer Ed Singer, because while it seems as if prevention efforts are slowing the growth of the overall pool of people in active addiction, drugs like fentanyl are leading to more deaths among those already using.
“We continue to see this problem with potentially fatal drugs, particularly fentantyl and carfentanil,” he said. “It’s difficult to say what you do about that — I just don’t have an answer about what to do about drugs being more dangerous.”
“We are very disappointed with the rise of fatal overdoses,” added Tim Weber, drug treatment and education liaison with the Carroll County State’s Attorney’s Office. “These numbers certainly demonstrate the deadly and dangerous nature of the heroin and other substances like fentanyl.”
Drugs such as fentanyl are a real problem for police efforts, too, Singer said, as such a small amount is so potent it can be easily hidden, shipped in the mail and difficult to interdict.
“From the perspective of doing harm, reduction to save lives and from the enforcement perspective, fentanyl has made our lives much more difficult,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we should stop having an impact on this crisis.”
One positive sign, Singer said, though it is anecdotal, is that in his conversations with medical professionals they have told him many patients have gotten the message that opioids are not always the best answer for every form of pain.
“I know people who are wiling to tell their doctors, no, I don’t want that,” he said. “We’re cutting down on the root of the problem. The prescribers are becoming educated.”
And there are success stories that are not told in the numbers of overdoses, Weber said.
“Our Major Overdose Initiative and Early Intervention Program has had huge success. With 42 individuals on our MOI list, 19 of them are in treatment and five of them have over a year of clean time,” he said. “The prevention efforts we are doing in the schools and community in collaboration with the health department and Carroll County Public Schools, these are things we can’t track in numbers on how many we prevented, but we know we are preventing future children from making some poor choices to experiment with drugs and alcohol.”
In the long term, Singer said, prevention efforts among middle- and high school-age students may be the ultimate key to solving this problem — but it may take time.
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“We really put a dent in smoking by telling those kids at a young age that this is a bad thing,” he said. “It took a long time to have an impact on smoking. It will probably take a long time to have an impact on this crisis.”