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A total of 1,172 people died from overdoses in Maryland during the first six months of this year. A third of them were in Baltimore, and nearly seven in 10 involved heroin’s more potent cousin, fentanyl.

The Maryland Department of Health’s newest figures, updated through two quarters of 2017, indicate growth in heroin-related overdose deaths (586) is actually almost flat compared to the first half of 2016 (579). Fentanyl-related deaths, meanwhile, jumped from 469 in the first half of 2016 to an astounding 799 through June of this year.

Another drug new on the scene called carfentanil – a tranquilizer intended for large animals, said to be 100 times strong than fentanyl – was tied to 46 deaths across the state. Some will recall the news of three deaths caused by carfentanil this spring, two of them in Anne Arundel County.

More broadly, opioids as a whole contributed to 88 percent of all intoxication deaths in Maryland; the rest were split between alcohol, cocaine and other substances.

Overdose deaths jumped roughly 20 percent from the first half of 2016, indicating that this is, in fact, a very horrible epidemic with significant momentum.

“Maryland is continuing to combat this crisis – including the increasingly deadly threat posed by fentanyl and carfentanil, with everything we’ve got,” said Clay Stamp, executive director of Maryland’s Opioid Operational Command Center, in a statement. “We see a significant amount of work being done at the state and local level each day. It will take everyone working together – from the federal, state, and local levels – to turn the tide in this epidemic and save the lives of thousands of Marylanders.”

Gov. Larry Hogan called a state of emergency for the opioid crisis this past spring, establishing the command center that Stamp is now leading. Hogan’s executive order in March also enabled more rapid mobilization of local, state and federal resources, such as money for treatment centers.

Baltimore has continued to shoulder the brunt of the crisis, though officials have taken steps to get city dwellers ready to help in case of an emergency. This summer, Health Commissioner Leana Wen signed a standing order to make the overdose-reversing drug Naloxone available over the counter at pharmacies around the city, regardless of whether the buyer has received training. The hope is that everyday citizens will carry the medication in case they come across someone who has overdosed, and will learn beforehand how to use it to save a life.

Click here to see the health department’s updated map of pharmacies carrying Naloxone.

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Ethan McLeod

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...