Maryland Hit With Record Number Of Fentanyl Deaths

By Keri Blakinger 07/30/18

"It's terrifying that we're at a point where the numbers escalate every year. We don't even know where the peak is," said Baltimore's health commissioner.

medical staff holding defibrillator paddles

Maryland hit a sobering new milestone last year: The state saw more fentanyl deaths than ever before. And this year, it turns out, is already on track to set another disquieting record. 

Of the state’s more than 2,200 intoxication deaths last year, roughly 90% were opioid-related and more than 1,500 involved fentanyl, according to health department data. 

"It's terrifying that we're at a point where the numbers escalate every year. We don't even know where the peak is," Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore's health commissioner, told the Associated Press

But that’s not true across the board. While fentanyl fatalities soared from 1,119 in 2016 to 1,594 last year in a more than 40% jump, heroin deaths are down 11% in the same period.

Prescription opioid fatalities are down a bit too, though cocaine deaths have jumped up some 49%. Most of that is likely due to the increasing appearance of fentanyl mixed in with coke, state officials said, according to the Washington Post.

Overall, the "large majority" of the fentanyl deaths occurred in Baltimore, the notoriously drug-riddled Charm City. There, 573 people died of fentanyl overdoses. Four years earlier, the city saw just 12 such fatalities. "That's a 5,000% increase in four years," Wen said. 

The new data comes just over a year after Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency in light of the ongoing opioid epidemic.

“We need to treat this crisis the exact same way we treat any other state emergency,” he said in a press conference at the time, while announcing an influx of roughly $50 million in funding to combat the problem. “As this crisis evolves, so must our response to it.”

The crisis in Maryland mirrors struggles playing out in states across the country as overdose deaths are driven up by the prevalence of dangerously strong synthetic opioids like fentanyl and the even stronger carfentanil.

So far, the problem doesn’t seem poised to improve in 2018. The first three months of the year notched up 653 accidental drug deaths in the state—and 500 of them involved fentanyl, state data showed.

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.