Heroin-related deaths are rising at an alarming rate in Maryland, which is suffering the fifth highest rate of death from drug overdoses in the country.
The opioid epidemic currently plaguing the country is driving a large surge in overdose deaths in the state, and it appears to be getting worse. Heroin-related deaths tripled from 247 in 2011 to 748 in 2015, according to data from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Heroin containing fentanyl, a powerful painkiller 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, continues to be a primary driver of overdoses across the country, reports WTOP.
Deaths from fentanyl-laced heroin in the first half of 2016 doubled when compared to the same period in 2015.
“With our patients, they were often completely unaware that the heroin or sometimes even just the pills that they were using had fentanyl in it,” Dr. Yngvild Olsen, a medical director in Baltimore, told WTOP.
A record 33,000 people died from opioid overdoses in 2015. Health officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed Dec. 8 that for the first time ever, there were more deaths related to heroin than gun homicides or suicides in 2015.
Use of prescription painkillers is now more widespread in the U.S. than using tobacco. Many people who overdose on substances like heroin began with a dependence on prescription painkillers, but switched after building high tolerances that made them too expensive.
“It pretty much affects everyone,” Sgt. Johnny Murray with the Hagerstown Police Department, told WTOP. “It’s just the pill epidemic, when that was uncontrolled and people were being able to ‘doctor shop’ and go to four or five different doctors and get these powerful narcotics.”
Heroin deaths contributed to the first drop in U.S. life expectancy since 1993. Opioid fatalities also eclipsed deaths from motor vehicle accidents in 2015. The substance accounts for roughly 80 percent of drug fatalities. The U.S. suffered the deadliest year on record for fatal drug overdoses, which claimed 52,404 lives in 2015.
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