Drug overdose deaths continued to increase across Maryland last year, driven by an influx of synthetic opioids like fentanyl, which are increasingly being cut into non-opioid substances like cocaine.
Data the Maryland Department of Health released Thursday shows the number of fatal overdoses in the state hit a record high in 2017, killing 2,282 people. Roughly 90 percent of all drug overdose deaths were caused by opioids, predominantly fentanyl, which is roughly 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, reports the Baltimore Business Journal.
Fentanyl deaths rose by 42 percent in 2017, killing 1,594. The increases occurred despite an overall drop in deaths linked to heroin, which accounted for more than 50 percent of all overdose deaths in 2016.
Officials are particularly concerned with sharp increases in cocaine-related deaths since 2015, fueled by fentanyl seeping into non-opioid drug supplies. Fentanyl was involved in roughly 71 percent of all cocaine fatalities in 2017. (RELATED: CDC Warns Of ‘Dramatic Rise’ In Synthetic Opioid Deaths Over 2017)
“While Maryland is starting to see a decline in heroin-related deaths, fentanyl-related deaths continue to rise in staggering numbers,” said Maryland Department of Health Secretary Robert R. Neall, according to Baltimore Business Journal.
Cocaine is increasingly being linked to drug overdose deaths in the U.S. due to dealers cutting supplies with synthetic opioids. Cocaine deaths spiked by 52 percent nationally between 2015 and 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, following many years of relatively stable numbers.
Officials estimate the substance is now killing roughly 13,000 Americans each year, up from 6,700 in 2015.
Authorities fear that, because cocaine is more widely used as a social drug than a substance like heroin, many users are unaware of the fatal risks even a small amount of the drug now carries.
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