The Washington Post

Spike in Md. heroin deaths prompts series of meetings, including one with O’Malley

In response to a spike in deaths from heroin overdoses last year in Maryland, Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration said Wednesday that it will hold a series of meetings with local health and law enforcement officials as part of an effort to reverse the trend.

According to a new report, the number of heroin-related overdose deaths rose in Maryland from 245 in 2011 to 378 in 2012 — a 54 percent increase.

The finding was consistent with an alert issued last fall by the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which released the new report Wednesday.

The department said the rise in heroin-related deaths was responsible for an overall increase in the number of fatal drug- and alcohol-related overdoses in the state, from 663 in 2011 to 761 in 2012.

Joshua M. Sharfstein, the health department’s secretary, said the state was continuing to take steps to address what he described as “a serious public health concern.”

Those efforts, the department said, will include several “roundtable” discussions with local public health and law enforcement officials.

O’Malley is scheduled to attend one of those meetings himself, in Cecil County on Aug. 9.

Other meetings advertised Wednesday include one in Prince George’s County on Aug. 29. The department said more details would be made available later.

In recent months, the state health department has directed localities to develop “prevention plans” in response to the uptick in heroin-related deaths.

The spike in heroin overdoes in 2012 followed a 36 percent decline between 2007 and 2011, the department said in its report. The increase in 2012 deaths was among all demographic groups and all regions of the state, according to the report.

Meanwhile, deaths from several other drugs, including prescription opioids such as oxycodone and methadone, fell in 2012 after rising in recent years, the report said.

John Wagner is a political reporter covering the race for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

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