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A program on Wednesday designed to educate the public on the rise of prescription drug and heroin use is well-timed, following last week's announcement from the state medical examiner noting there have been at least 37 deaths since September from a batch of heroin tainted with fentanyl.

Fentanyl resembles heroin, but it is much more potent. The state medical examiner noted last week that the 37 deaths represent about 12 percent of the 318 overdose deaths since September.

According to a press release from the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that fentanyl is estimated to be 80 times more powerful than morphine and hundreds of times more potent than heroin. The presence of fentanyl dramatically increases the risk of an overdose death.

One of the 37 deaths noted by the state agency occurred in Carroll.

Across the state, we have been wrestling with an increase in heroin-related deaths. The increase is why the state required counties to come up with plans to address the rise. Part of Carroll's Opioid Overdose Prevention Plan involves partnering with groups and agencies that focus on recovery as a way to increase public awareness and education about the problem.

The main message for those who may be struggling with an addiction problem, or for those who see a loved one suffering from the negative consequences of addiction, is that there is help available.

Heroin-related overdose deaths in Carroll rose from two in 2011 to 13 in 2012. Over the same period, deaths from prescription opioid-related overdoses increased from five to 17.

Addictions associated with prescription painkillers bring a range of potential problems for abusers. But addictions centered on heroin or other illegal drugs that are bought on the street bring an added danger because the buyers don't know what they are getting. The increase in deaths associated with a bad batch of heroin demonstrate how drug abusers literally put their life at risk each time they purchase from a drug dealer.

In this environment, Wednesday's public discussion and educational meeting on emerging opioid trends is a timely event for both those struggling with an addiction and wondering where to go for help, and those who may have a friend or loved one with an addiction.

The event begins at 5:15 p.m. and will be held at On Our Own, 265 E. Main St., #2, Westminster.

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