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Md. overdose deaths continue to rise with use of fentanyl

 (Maximilian Franz)

Clay Stamp (Maximilian Franz)

Opioid-related deaths in Maryland continued to rise during the first half of the year, fueled by an increase in deaths related to fentanyl.

About 1,325 deaths occurred from January to June related to drugs or alcohol, according to preliminary numbers from the state of Maryland. Over the same period in 2017, there were 1,179 drug- or alcohol-related deaths.

A significant contributor to the increase is presence of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid with much higher rates of overdoses. Fentanyl-related deaths from January to June totaled 1,038 according to the preliminary numbers. Through the first six months of 2017, there were 800 fentanyl-related deaths.

“The Opioid Operational Command Center is working closely with a growing number of partners, and our local jurisdictions’ Opioid Intervention Teams are increasing access to treatment and recovery resources, stemming the tide of dangerous fentanyl by disrupting drug trafficking organizations, and expanding the important work of prevention through education in our schools, faith-based organizations, the business community, and Maryland’s communities,” Clay Stamp, executive director of the state’s Opioid Operational Command Center, said in a statement.

The fentanyl overdoses obscure some gains the state has made in curbing overdose deaths over the past couple of years.

Heroin-related deaths, for example, fell to 469 for the first six months of the year, compared to 587 deaths over the same period last year. Similarly, there were 199 reported fatal overdoses due to prescription opioids, compared to 213 over the first six months of 2017 and 218 for the first six months of 2016.

But opioid misuse has also proven more lethal when used in combination with another drug: cocaine. Last year, there were 276 deaths related to cocaine used in combination with opioids from January to June. This year, there were 451 deaths.

By comparison, in the first six months of both 2017 and 2018, there were 51 deaths each related to just cocaine.

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