Public Health Update: Heroin Overdose Deaths on the Rise; Rx Opioid Overdose Deaths Down

 BALTIMORE (December 7, 2012) – The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene today released data for the first seven months of 2012 that show an increase in overdose deaths related to heroin coinciding with a decline in overdose deaths related to prescription opioids. Overall, there were six percent more drug overdose deaths during the first seven months of 2012 compared to the same period in 2011.

Following a decline from 2007 to 2011, there were 205 heroin-related overdose deaths in the first seven months of 2012, compared to 145 during the same period in 2011, an increase of 41 percent. At the same time, overdose deaths related to prescription opioids like oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone have declined by 15 percent, from 208 to 177.

Central Maryland experienced a 47 percent increase in heroin overdose deaths, while Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore have also seen substantial increases of 54 percent and 80 percent, respectively.

The shift from prescription opioid- to heroin-related overdose deaths may reflect a growing trend where individuals who abuse prescription opioids initiate heroin use. Public health and law enforcement authorities in Maryland and across the country are reporting that heroin is becoming a cheap, potent and accessible alternative to pharmaceutical opioids that are now more expensive and difficult to obtain for non-medical use. The largest increases in fatal heroin-related overdoses in Maryland have been among younger age groups, including a 53 percent increase among ages 15-24 and a 59 percent increase among ages 35-44.

“The rise in overdoses from heroin is a new and concerning trend,” said DHMH Secretary Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein. "By addressing this issue, we can continue the progress Maryland has made against drug addiction."

Maryland's public health response to this challenge will include:

Outreach to physicians and other health care providers to help them identify potential heroin users and refer them to effective treatment. Click here to read a letter sent to Maryland physicians;
Support for innovative local efforts to respond to drug overdose across the state; and
Development of the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) to provide support for referral to treatment.

Reducing drug-induced deaths is a major public health goal of Maryland’s State Health Improvement Process (


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