Harford sheriff begins posting heroin overdoses tally for all to see

Dispatching narcotics detectives to overdose calls received through 911 Center started in 2015

The Sheriff's Office has begun posting updated tallies of 2016 overdoses on signboards posted outside the Southern Precinct Station on Route 40 in Edgewood and the Northern Precinct Station on Route 23 in Jarrettsville.

As of Friday morning, seven suspected heroin overdoses were under investigation since the start of the year 14 days earlier – three were fatal.

A third signboard is expected to go up in front of the Sheriff's Office Headquarters, across South Main Street from the Circuit Courthouse in Bel Air, sometime in the coming week, spokesperson Cristie Kahler said.

The signboards, originally announced in the fall, are part of Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler's initiatives, begun shortly after taking office in late 2014, to confront the county's heroin abuse epidemic from a law enforcement standpoint.

The Sheriff's Office also has partnered with County Executive Barry Glassman's administration and the Harford Health Department to attack the epidemic on several fronts, including more public outreach and education and more treatment opportunities for heroin users.

Dispatching narcotics detectives to overdose calls received through 911 Center started at the beginning of 2015, as Gahler sought to get a handle both on the extent of the problem and build more intelligence about sources supply and heroin usage.

According to the Sheriff's Office, there were 201 suspected heroin overdoses investigated by the Harford County Narcotics Task Force in 2015, of which 27 are believed to have been fatal as a result of the ingestion of the drug.

Kahler cautioned Friday, however, that some cases remain under investigation or are awaiting final toxicology reports.

"As the year progresses, and we receive supporting documentation from toxicology reports, these numbers might need to be adjusted," she explained. "For example, the tox report may show that the cause of death was something other than heroin or a report from an unattended death where we did not suspect heroin, might return showing that heroin was, in fact, the cause of death."

She also noted that prior to 2015, the Sheriff's Office did not collect information on the abuse of heroin to the extent it did in the past year.

"We are still very much in the information gathering stage and will continue to modify our system, as needed," she said.

Not all of the heroin overdoses and fatalities that occurred in Harford County last year were reported to law enforcement for investigation, according to the Sheriff's Office. If the victim got to a hospital by some other means other than ambulance or there was no 911 call, for example, the overdose would most likely not be reported to narcotics detectives to investigate.

Broken down by ZIP Code, the numbers of suspected overdoses investigated by detectives in individual communities differ slightly from earlier report the Sheriff's Office provided to The Aegis in late December.

Of the 27 suspected fatal heroin overdoses, seven occurred in the greater Aberdeen area 20001 ZIP Code. Six occurred in the Bel Air 21014 ZIP Code, which encompasses the Town of Bel Air and also is the location of University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center.

Four suspected fatal overdoses occurred in the greater Edgewood area 21040 ZIP Code, and three occurred in the greater Havre de Grace area 21078 ZIP Code, which also is the location of Harford Memorial Hospital.

There were two suspected fatal overdoses in the Bel Air 21015 ZIP Code and two in the tiny Belcamp 21017 ZIP Code between Edgewood and Aberdeen. There were suspected single fatal overdoses in the Jarrettsville 21084, Joppa 21085 and Forest Hill 21050 ZIP Codes.

Combined the two Bel Air area ZIP Codes had 55 suspected nonfatal and fatal heroin overdoses, including 38 in 21014 and 17 in 21015.

The Aberdeen and Edgewood ZIP Codes each had 35 suspected nonfatal and fatal overdoses, while the Joppa ZIP Code had 16.

The Havre de Grace and Abingdon (21009) each had 13 suspected overdoses. Fallston (21047), Darlington (21034) and Forest Hill were next with five each.

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