The numbers are in. Maryland’s opioid epidemic is worsening at a faster rate than ever.
The state recorded 2,089 drug- and alcohol-related intoxication deaths last year, a 66 percent jump from all of 2015, according to new figures released yesterday. Opioids, as expected, were responsible for the bulk (89 percent) of the deaths.
Breaking down those figures further, heroin was linked to 1,212 (58 percent) of overdose deaths, fentanyl was tied to 1,119 (54 percent) deaths and prescription drugs to 418 (20 percent) of deaths. As state Department of Mental Health and Hygiene officials noted in the new report, “Since an intoxication death may involve more than one substance, counts of deaths related to specific substances do not sum to the total number” of 2,089.
Once again, Baltimore was hit hardest. The city accounted for 694 deaths, a third of all across the state. Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties contributed a fourth, combined. For perspective, the city lost 393 lives the year before to overdoses.
“We continue to lose hundreds of family, friends, and community members in Baltimore City to overdose,” said City Health Commissioner Leana Wen in a statement responding to the new data. “This is a public health emergency that demands immediate action to prevent further death.”
Wen last week signed a standing order making naloxone, the overdose-reversing medication, available over the counter in all city pharmacies. In her statement, she said the new numbers “demonstrate the urgent need” for that policy change. She also said she’s requested federal and state funding for more naloxone, addiction treatment and emergency response to overdose outbreaks.
The number of annual overdose deaths in Maryland has now climbed threefold since 2010. Seeing this trend, Gov. Larry Hogan called a state of emergency earlier this year. His executive order eliminated some barriers to mobilizing local, state and federal resources and earmarked $50 million to fund prevention and recovery programs and law enforcement efforts for the next five years.
Wen said the city is still waiting to learn “how those of us on the frontlines can obtain these funds.”
Hogan, for his part, said in a statement that while “today’s news is discouraging, we will never stop searching for innovative solutions to this problem, or fighting as hard as we can to save Marylanders’ lives.”
The news of last year’s spike in drug-related deaths comes as a new monster opioid is spreading around the state: carfentanil, a tranquilizer for large animals. This week, The Capital reported Anne Arundel County has seen six deaths linked to the drug in as many weeks. Harford and Frederick counties have also seen it show up in a handful of toxicology reports.