Opioid overdose deaths decline year over year, but remain staggeringly high

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For the first time in nearly a decade, Maryland is seeing a decline in overdose deaths in the midst of the nationwide opioid crisis, according to new data from the Maryland Department of Health.

But the number of deaths remains staggeringly high. Through June of this year, 1,060 people in Maryland have died from opioid overdoses, the second-highest level recorded since 2007. Of those, 962 fatal overdoses–or 90 percent–were caused by the powerful synthetic drug fentanyl.

At this point last year, there were 1,193 deaths. The final count for 2018 was 2,143 fatal overdoses, according to figures released by the state.

Gov. Larry Hogan said the 11.1 percent decrease in opioid-related deaths is “welcome news” but cautioned “the heroin and opioid epidemic remains a crisis and we will continue to respond with all the tools at our disposal.”

“The fight against heroin and opioid overdoses has torn apart communities and families throughout our state and across the nation,” he said. “Together, we can and we must do more in order to save the lives of thousands of Marylanders.”

While most of the state’s largest jurisdictions saw decreases in the number of opioid-related deaths, Baltimore City’s total increased slightly, from 444 fatal overdoses at this point last year to 449 through June 2019.

Those deaths account for 42 percent of the state’s total.

Maryland has seen sharper declines in the number of deaths attributable to heroin in the first two quarters of 2019. To date, 401 people have overdosed on the drug, down from 471 in 2018 and a high of 587 in 2017.

Baltimore City had the highest number of cocaine-related deaths with 168 to date, up by 10 from last year.

Brandon Weigel

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