Maryland saw a sharp spike in fentanyl-related deaths in the first half of this year, with fatalities from heroin and prescription opioids appearing to level off after years of steady increases.
The state’s Department of Health reported Tuesday that fentanyl-related deaths leapt to 799 between January and June of this year, compared to 469 such deaths over the same period in 2016.
Fentanyl and carfentanil — synthetic opioids which are being used at increasing rates as the country grapples with a nationwide opioid epidemic — are 50 and 100 times more powerful than heroin, respectively.
The state reported earlier this year that 372 fentanyl-related deaths occurred in the first quarter of 2017; by June, that number had grown to 799, according to preliminary data.
Carfentanil, a powerful elephant tranquilizer that the state began screening for in 2016 and was first detected this year, was tied to 46 deaths in the first half of 2017.
"We are working closely with local jurisdictions to analyze the data," Secretary of Health Dennis Schrader said in a statement. He said a top priority now is to build "a continuum of care for those with substance-use disorders."
In the first half of 2007, there were 11 fentanyl-related deaths. That number stayed relatively constant through 2013, which saw 15 fentanyl-related deaths from January through June. Since then, however, the number has increased more than 50-fold.
In all, 1,029 opioid-related deaths occurred in the first half of 2017, more than triple the number during the same period in 2012.
But the number of deaths from heroin and prescription opioid overdoses remained stable compared to the first six months of 2016.
There was an increase of seven heroin overdose deaths in the first half of 2017, while the number of prescription opioid overdose deaths fell by seven.
Deaths related to the use of cocaine in combination with opioids spiked, increasing from 186 in the first half of 2016 to 276 over the same period this year.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) declared a state of emergency for the opioid crisis in March, announcing $50 million for enforcement, prevention and treatment services over the next five years.
In July, the state received a waiver that allows residents to be reimbursed by the federal Medicaid program for certain residential substance-abuse treatment programs.
Baltimore continued to experience the most drug- and fentanyl-related overdose deaths in the state. The city's health officials said in June that they were running low on naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug that has saved hundreds of lives in recent years.
Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County reported the second- and third-highest rates of fentanyl-related deaths, according to state data.