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Carroll heroin, fentanyl deaths continue to trickle up

Newly released numbers from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene may suggest Carroll County is bucking the trend when it comes to the number of fatal overdoses.

DHMH sent out an alert Thursday with numbers indicating a dramatic increase in overdose numbers across the state.

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The total number of heroin deaths in Maryland jumped from 748 in 2015 to 1,212 in 2016.

Deaths linked to the synthetic opioid fentanyl increased even more dramatically, surging from 340 deaths in 2015 to 1,119 in 2016, according to DHMH statistics.

And while the numbers did rise in Carroll, the county saw a smaller percentage increase than most of its neighboring counties in heroin-related deaths.

According to recently released DHMH statistics for 2016, Carroll saw 25 heroin-related fatalities and 15 prescription-opioid related deaths in 2016. There were 20 fentanyl-related overdose fatalities, according to the DHMH statistics.

It's fentanyl that saw the biggest increase. Carroll has had a total of 42 fentanyl-related deaths between 2007 and 2016, with approximately 74 percent of those deaths happening in 2015 and 2016, according to the DHMH statistics. There were 11 fentanyl deaths in 2015 and 20 in 2016.

But while they jumped in Carroll, the county still had fewer fentanyl deaths than neighboring counties. Howard jumped from seven in 2015 to 27 in 2016, Montgomery went from 17 to 43 in those two years, Frederick went from 11 to 49 and Baltimore County went from 65 to 182, according to the data.

But while numbers appear high in 2016 and in the beginning of 2017, the numbers of overdoses seem to be significantly dropping since the end of April, Sheriff Jim DeWees said.

"I haven't seen an overdose this month that we've responded to," DeWees said.

From Jan. 1 to June 6, there have been 22 fatalities from overdoses, eight of which were from heroin and 11 from fentanyl, according to Carroll County Sheriff's Office statistics.

Five of the heroin fatalities occurred between Jan. 1 and Feb. 28, according to previous Times reporting. So far there have been 113 heroin overdoses, a rate of about 7 percent fatal. There have been 14 fentanyl overdoses and approximately 79 percent have been fatal, according to the Sheriff's Office statistics. In the statistics, an overdose involving heroin and fentanyl is counted as a heroin overdose, according to the Sheriff's Office.

In March, there was a grimmer mindset, with DeWees telling the Times that he expected the county would see closer to 1,000 overdoses.

Carroll is still on pace to have more fatal and nonfatal heroin overdoses than in 2016. In 2016, there were 161 nonfatal overdoses through the end of November, 10 of which were fatal, according to previous Times reporting.

Carroll is two fatal heroin overdoses away from meeting that number and less than 60 away from meeting the total number of nonfatal heroin overdoses, according to the Sheriff's Office statistics.

But while across Maryland, and within the Baltimore metropolitan region which includes Carroll, the statistics have increased significantly, Carroll's numbers have only risen by a few since 2015.

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Since 2007, there have been a total of 254 intoxication deaths, which includes all substances, in Carroll. It's 26 more deaths than in Howard and 90 fewer deaths than in Frederick, according to DHMH statistics.

Looking at just heroin, the county has had a total of 115 heroin-related deaths. The numbers have continued to increase since 2007, with numbers climbing from 16 in 2014 to 22 in 2015 to 25 in 2016, according to the statistics.

The numbers are rising, but at a much lower percentage than other counties in the Baltimore metropolitan area. Baltimore County saw heroin deaths rise by 74 from 2015 to 2016 while Baltimore City almost doubled going from 260 in 2015 to 454 in 2016, according to the statistics.

Neighboring Howard County lept from 16 to 24 deaths while Frederick County went up by 20, with 26 in 2015 and 46 in 2016, according to the statistics.

Carroll had a total of 112 prescription-opioid related deaths between 2007 and 2016, and it went from 15 in 2014 to 14 in 2015 back up to 15 in 2016, according to the statistics.

In terms of other substances, Carroll had eight deaths related to cocaine, one death related to benzodiazepine and 12 deaths related to alcohol, according to DHMH statistics.

DeWees said he is not sure why the numbers have started to decrease in the county. He said he is hesitant to say it's due to all of the county's preventative work because the numbers could turn again.

His agency has also made some arrests that may have helped with the lower numbers in the past two months, he said.

And while the numbers appear good at the moment, there is a chance for them to rise again, he said.

The Carroll County Health Department put out a release earlier in the week warning residents about an uptick in overdoses across the state in the past week.

"This could be due to a number of causes, but such spikes are often related to heroin laced with fentanyl or carfentanil. Counterfeit pain and anxiety pills may also be laced with fentanyl. The pills are disguised to look like frequently-prescribed and commonly-abused medications such as Percocet, oxycodone, Xanax and others," the department said in the release.

DeWees said he has not seen counterfeit pills in the county yet. The easiest way to avoid taking a counterfeit pill is for people to only take medications prescribed to them.

For those looking to get rid of leftover, unused older prescription medications, all Maryland State Police barracks are now open 24 hours for prescriptions, according to a release from the agency.

"Giving Marylanders more places to safely and properly dispose of any old and unused medications is just one more way to fight the heroin and opioid epidemic that is devastating our state's communities," Clay Stamp, executive director of the Opioid Operational Command Center, said in the release.

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