After police spent six months investigating an alleged heroin ring based out of Severna Park, prosecutors say officers found a startling fact about the drugs they were selling.
Assistant State’s Attorney Nicolle Norris said Glen and Earl Davis, two alleged heroin and cocaine dealers charged with running a drug trafficking organization with nearly 20 other people, were creating drug cocktails that were resistant to detoxification treatment.
“The drugs that (Earl Davis) is putting out there, the drugs that he is selling, are stronger and they are cut with more addictive chemicals,” she said during Davis’ bail review hearing in October. “Law enforcement has received information from the confidential sources that state they’re having a hard time detoxing from it.”
She went on to say the drugs — allegedly cut with everything from fentanyl and horse tranquilizer to cocaine — was cut in such a way that people would still get sick from withdrawal if they bought their heroin elsewhere.
So as it seems inevitable the county will set the record for the most fatal overdoses in one year for the third-consecutive year after tying the record last week, we take a look at four ways either drugs are changing Anne Arundel or how officials are changing their response to them.
Drug cocktails making treatment more difficult
Prosecutors believe an alleged drug trafficking organization Norris described as “the source of supply for heroin, fentanyl and cocaine in the Severn Park and Arnold areas” was selling drug cocktails more resistant to typical detoxification treatment.
While the types of drugs being cut with heroin, such as a horse tranquilizer Anne Arundel County Police Chief Timothy Altomare said he’d never heard of, are more unique, cutting heroin and drugs with other chemicals is nothing new.
However, due to the advent of cheaper fentanyl, a synthetic opioid multitudes more potent than heroin, it’s become more worrisome for officers and emergency responders.
Police have said heroin mixed with fentanyl makes overdoses harder to treat, sometimes needing multiple doses of the treatment drug naloxone to stop the symptoms.
But, if police are right and the Davises were making a more addictive kind of drug cocktail resistant to traditional detox methods, it could create a even deadlier market.
A drugs resistant to treatment means more business for dealers, who want their return customers to rely on their products.
Cocaine and heroin a rising concern
One of the more surprising statistics from the state’s Department of Health is the rise of cocaine-related overdose deaths in Maryland.
By the end of June, the state had seen 502 people die from cocaine overdoses, compared to only 103 during that same period in 2015.
But again, fentanyl, a white powder similar to cocaine in consistency, looks to be largely to blame.
According to the state, 451 of the 502 people who’ve died of cocaine-related overdoses also had opioids in their system, compared to just 86 during the same period in 2015.
Yet, while many are concerned about heroin mixed with fentanyl, a Johns Hopkins University study of 175 drug users in Baltimore city found only 20 percent were concerned about fentanyl being in their cocaine.
Carfentanil not as prevalent in 2018
One of the biggest scares for officials last year was the presence of carfentanil in illegal drug markets.
Magnitudes stronger than fentanyl and used to tranquilize large animals, it contributed to 60 deaths statewide last year and eight in Anne Arundel County, second only to 20 in Baltimore city.
However, as of June, only one person in the state had died from a carfentanil overdose. Anne Arundel hasn’t seen any such overdoses as of Nov. 19, according to Anne Arundel County police.
While the increasing fatality of heroin and fentanyl mixes still worries county officials, they can take some solace in the fact that dealers seemingly aren’t mixing in a drug that is 100 times more potent than fentanyl.
Testing drugs for drugs
One of the more controversial propositions for trying to fight back against the prevalence of fentanyl and other analogues in heroin and other drugs is to allow the users to test the drugs themselves to see if the synthetic opioid is present.
Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley wants the city to adopt this measure. Many medical professionals say it would reduce overdoses.
It’s part of an evolving debate happening across the world on how to reduce overdose deaths in the short-term, even if it doesn’t immediately lead to treatment in the long-term.
But while other municipalities have moved farther in that direction — with some cities offering safe injection sites, clean needle exchanges and drug testing kits — Anne Arundel had largely avoided the propositions under County Executive Steve Schuh.
County Executive-elect Steuart Pittman said earlier this month that while his “instincts tell me that fentanyl (testing) strips in particular could save lives,” he wouldn’t support them.
“I have read the research on the potential pros and cons of needle exchange and fentanyl strip programs and am disappointed to see neither has show a significant impact,” he wrote in an email.
While medical professionals say the measures would reduce sexually transmitted diseases, infections and potentially overdoses, it’s still an ongoing debate as to whether they would be "giving people the tools to continue their addiction,” as Schuh put it.