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Two heroin-related overdoses - one fatal - start new year in Harford

Two days into 2018 and Harford County has already had two suspected heroin overdoses — one of them fatal - the Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday.

That comes off a year in which Harford again saw record numbers of heroin and other opioid-related overdoses, both fatal and non-fatal.

On Tuesday morning, a 62-year-old, who police identified as a black man from Edgewood, fatally overdosed, while a 56-year-old, who police identified as a white woman from Bel Air, overdosed on heroin or other opioids on New Year’s Day, according to the Sheriff’s Office. A year earlier, the county’s first fatal overdose occurred within the first few hours of Jan. 1.

In 2017, Harford reported 450 heroin and opioid-related overdoses, 81 of them fatal. Total overdoses in 2017 increased by 55 percent and fatal overdoses increased by 44 percent from 2016, when there were 290 total overdoses, 56 of which were fatal, according to statistics from the Sheriff’s Office.

Statistics for 2017 won’t be complete for at least several months until results from all toxicology reports and other investigations have been received, the Sheriff’s Office said.

Just two days into the new year, it’s too soon to see a pattern emerging on the ages of the county’s overdose victims, Cristie Kahler, director of media relations for the Sheriff’s Office, said.

“We do know that we have consistently seen that there is no demographic that is immune. Last year’s victims ranged from 17 to 64, with an average age of 32.5,” Kahler said. “Our heroin coordinator will continue to track all data surrounding both fatal and nonfatal overdoses to determine if we will see any new trends emerge.”

Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler said last week he has no intention of giving up the fight against the heroin epidemic that is raging not only in Harford County, but also across the country.

“Nowhere has it been written that more can’t be done. I agree, and continue to evaluate the problem for opportunities. Opportunities to prevent, disrupt or reduce opioid addiction are sought at every turn,” Gahler wrote in an op-ed piece published in The Aegis Friday.

“In the New Year, the Harford County Sheriff’s Office will remain committed to build on the coordinated approach to reduce overdose deaths and capitalize on every opportunity to incorporate prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery to stem the tide of opioids impacting our community.”

Shortly after taking office in late 2014, Gahler initiated a protocol that narcotics detectives go to the scene of every suspected overdose called in to the county’s 911 Center, in an effort to gather intelligence about sources of supply.

The Sheriff’s Office also began publicly reporting the number of overdoses, non-fatal and fatal, on a weekly basis, which has allowed the general public to see how the abuse of heroin and other opioids has risen on a straight trajectory since, thus far with no sign of slowing.

In 2016, the Sheriff’s Office reached an agreement with the operator of Harford’s two hospitals to begin reporting overdose cases treated through their respective emergency rooms.

The Sheriff’s Office, as Kahler said, has developed a significant body of statistics, tracking overdoses by age groups, gender, race and ZIP code.

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