When bullets kill someone in Baltimore, the public knows right away. When drugs do, notice takes months.

When someone is shot in the streets of Baltimore, police release the details swiftly. If the person dies, the city police department publicizes the victim's name soon afterward.

The department's releases allow the public to track the toll of violence in real time, and the homicide rate is a key number by which the Police Department is judged. The Baltimore Sun follows the numbers and maps them daily.


But when it comes to heroin and other opioid overdoses, which in recent years have killed far more people than bullets and knives — more than 600 so far this year, more than twice the roughly 250 homicides — real-time information isn't routinely available.

City Councilman Brandon Scott, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, asked city Health Department and police officials this week whether they could share more information. He said it would help people understand the scope of the overdose crisis.

"One of the problems in my opinion with how people view people taking drugs is they think it doesn't happen in their neighborhoods," Scott said.

"My personal belief is if we were sharing that data in a public fashion and people could map it on Open Baltimore" — the city's data website — "they would see that these things are happening across the city and not just in the places where they think they're happening. It's different when it's their neighbor next door and they don't know why their neighbor died, but we know."

The Open Baltimore system includes weekly crime statistics, records of all serious crime in the city and 911 calls.

The state Department of Health typically releases overdose numbers quarterly, but the figures are often long delayed. The most recent official numbers are from the first three months of 2017.

There are differences between reporting homicides and overdoses. Declaring overdose as a cause of death requires detailed work by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

But insiders do have access to preliminary figures before they are released.

Deputy Police Commissioner Dean Palmere cited those numbers at the hearing: 1,691 fatal opioid overdoses in the state this year, 632 in Baltimore. A police spokesman said the department received that data from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

The Sun has sought more detailed information about fatal overdoses with a Public Information Act request for data from the medical examiner's office.

Officials released daily logs of overdoses going back to 2010, when the rate of deaths began to climb steeply, but withheld the names, ages and races of victims, citing the state's death certificate and medical records laws. The records also don't include detailed geographic information.

After Scott's request, Palmere said the Police Department could produce maps showing which neighborhoods have been affected.