Public Health Update: State and Local Officials Respond to Increase in Heroin Overdoses

BALTIMORE (July 10, 2013) – Health and law enforcement officials across Maryland are taking steps to counter an increase in the number of heroin-related overdose deaths. The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene today released a report today showing that the number of heroin-related overdose deaths increased from 245 in 2011 to 378 in 2012, a 54 percent rise. This increase led to a 15 percent rise in the total number of fatal drug- and alcohol-related overdoses in the State, from 663 in 2011 to 761 in 2012.

According to the report, consistent with the Department’s fall 2012 public release, 2012 marked a reversal in recent alcohol and drug overdose trends. Heroin-related deaths, which declined 36 percent between 2007 and 2011, increased among all demographic groups and in all regions in the State from 2011 to 2012. In contrast, deaths related to prescription opioids like oxycodone and methadone, which increased 18 percent between 2007 and 2011, decreased 12 percent between 2011 and 2012. To view the full report, click here.

“We are taking action to address this serious public health concern,” said Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, Secretary of DHMH.

After issuing a public alert on the rise in heroin overdoses last fall, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene directed all Maryland counties and Baltimore City to develop an overdose response plan. An all-day technical assistance session was held on March 27. The local prevention plans will be posted as they become available at

The implementation of local plans will provide opportunities for cross-sector collaboration to address drug and alcohol overdoses. Plan components identified by jurisdictions include:
  • Hosting continuing education programs to improve the ability of medical providers to screen for misuse of opioids and to safely and effectively prescribe these medications;
  • Training and certifying individuals on the administration of naloxone to reverse opioid overdoses; and
  • Establishing multi-disciplinary overdose fatality review teams to improve data sharing and coordinate prevention activities.
To assist local jurisdictions in their overdose prevention efforts, Governor O’Malley will attend a roundtable with law enforcement and public health authorities at the Cecil County Administration Building, 200 Chesapeake Blvd., in Elkton on August 9, 2013, at 2:30 PM. Other jurisdictions will hold similar roundtables on this issue: Baltimore County on August 6; Baltimore City on August 12; Wicomico County on August 28; and Prince George’s County on August 29. Details will be made available at

At these events, State and local leaders, including representatives from health, law enforcement, education, social services, and other agencies, will discuss actions they are taking to address alcohol and drug overdoses in their communities.

The report released today found that the overall increase in the number of drug and alcohol overdose deaths was largest among individuals over the age of 55, with deaths in this age group increasing by 40 percent. The total number of deaths increased by 20 percent in Central and Southern Maryland and by nearly 30 percent in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County, while remaining stable from 2011 to 2012 in Western Maryland and on the Eastern Shore.

Governor O’Malley has added drug and alcohol overdose deaths to his Governor’s Delivery Unit outcome measures for the state, with a goal of 20 percent decline by 2015.

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