Heroin (copy)

Heroin that was seized by the Frederick County Sheriff's Office.

Overdose deaths from synthetic opioids — specifically fentanyl, a fast-acting pain medication that can be up to 100 times more potent than morphine — is the fastest-growing category in Frederick County and across the state, according to recent data released by the Maryland Department of Health.

From January to June, 25 people in Frederick County died from fentanyl intoxication, an increase of seven over the same period last year. The county has also seen an exponential increase in the number of fentanyl-related deaths in recent years, from two in 2013 to 49 in 2016.

Overall in Maryland, the number of fatal fentanyl overdoses increased from 469 in the first half of 2016 to 799 in the same period this year. Carfentanil — a synthetic opioid used as a tranquilizer for large animals — has also become a growing concern since the state began screening for the substance in 2016.

While there were no recorded carfentanil-related deaths in the first half of 2016, 49 fatal overdoses occurred over the same period in 2017.

“Probably the majority are people who are trying to use heroin and discover that it’s cut with something,” said Paul Wolford, the coordinator of the Frederick County Drug Treatment Court.

The prevalence of fentanyl, especially, has become such a problem that the program began testing participants specifically for the substance last year, and purchased a more sophisticated analyzer in May.

The potency of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids also poses a huge concern for Wolford and other local drug treatment experts. The strength of those substances makes lethal overdoses more likely and bystander intervention even more crucial, given that emergency responders might not always reach the scene of an overdose in time to save the person, said Andrea Walker, the director of Behavioral Health Services for the Frederick County Health Department.

Naloxone, the overdose reversal medication, is also less effective against synthetic opioids. In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that multiple doses of the drug are often needed to treat fentanyl overdoses.

“With fentanyl, it doesn’t take as much to get the same high,” Wolford said. “And I think that’s what leads to a lot of overdoses. You see that with people who have gone through treatment, too. Maybe they had some clean time and then relapsed and tried to take the same amount of heroin as they used to. Well, their body can’t handle it, and then fentanyl’s mixed in. It’s just a deadly cocktail.”

The county is continuing to expand its peer recovery support program as a way of encouraging more people into treatment, Walker said. The Health Department has embedded a peer support specialist at the Frederick Community Action Agency, a local service provider for homeless and low-income residents, and recently hired a new peer to embed with the mobile crisis unit run by the Way Station in Frederick.

Despite the county’s interventions, there’s little indication that the opioid crisis is near a close. While the number of prescription-opioid-related deaths declined slightly from 2016 to 2017, heroin-related deaths remained flat in Frederick County and across the state. Deaths from heroin or fentanyl in combination with other drugs, such as cocaine or benzodiazepines, are also growing.

“I don’t know exactly how much it’s gone up, but I know it’s continuing to be a problem,” Wolford said. “I don’t see how it can continue to go up, because it’s already so huge.”

Follow Kate Masters on Twitter: @kamamasters.

Kate Masters is the features and food reporter for The Frederick News-Post. She can be reached at kmasters@newspost.com.

(23) comments

MostWantedBlackVeteran

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or Trump to realize if lives truly matter in Frederick County then we need a change of course in law enforcement leadership in the County.

MostWantedBlackVeteran

This clearly shows drug abuse is worsening in our community, so we need to become smarter and more agile by hiring new police administrators, developing a coherent multifaceted strategy to combat opioid abuse.

MostWantedBlackVeteran

If the sheriffs department put as much energy and effort into corralling opioid users as they’ve done disabled movie goers and disabled veterans we wouldn’t have a opioid tsunami in Frederick County.

DickD

Amen! Way to tell Rabbit, MostWantedBlackVeteran![beam]

rbtdt5

lol.. yeah, that's telling me. How much county time was spent on either? The deputies at the theater were off duty and the other story is make believe. Well, Dick said I was told ... guess I'll go crawl back in my rabbit hole and cry. hahahahahahahahahaha

MostWantedBlackVeteran

Who’s more believable than a home grown black retired military veteran who nearly died in defense of America?

rbtdt5

um, if that home grown black retired military person is you? Probably anyone as your story is fake.

MostWantedBlackVeteran

Maybe if we had an experienced police chief instead of a sheriff Frederick County wouldn’t be the opioid capital of the East Coast.

rbtdt5

Being the problem is mostly in the city, I assume you are talking about chief Hargis, I think there's only so much the police can do.

MostWantedBlackVeteran

The CE isn’t in charge of law enforcement

rbtdt5

So you think this is a crime issue and not a health issue? Then maybe we need to add more officers. The problem seems to be mostly in the city, should we have our great sheriff take over the city police too? Lock up the users/dealers for longer periods of time? They say once an addict always an addict, so just lock them up forever?

MostWantedBlackVeteran

A sheriff in charge for years has worsen the problem now is the time to try something new to save our County like using the free market to hire an experienced police chief.

ma23464

It's a good thing that the CE is not the boss of the sheriff. Do you really want the sheriff, the person that is responsible for protecting citizens rights, to be a puppet of politics.

With that said I agree that Jenkins should focus more energy and Resourses on this issue.

MostWantedBlackVeteran

Under a republican Bocc and democratic CE the sheriff has allowed our County to become the opioid capital of the East Coast in the free market that’s defined as failure.

DickD

MWBV, tell Rabbit it is her hero, the Republican Sheriff and he has only let the crisis get worse.

MostWantedBlackVeteran

Because most populous republican county in the state is also the opioid capital in the state the emphasis is now on treatment and rehabilitation not incarceration. [wink]

rbtdt5

The "most populous republican county" are you talking about Frederick? We have a democrat in charge right now. I'm surprised you didn't know that. Also what are you doing on the computer today? Shouldn't you be at one of the events in town celebrating our vets? or at least getting a free meal somewhere?

DickD

Rabbit, we may have a Democrat CE, but there are more registered Republicans than Democrats in Frederick County. Instead of disparaging the vet, you should; "get with it".

rbtdt5

So you agree that a Democrat is had the helm right now. He is talking about the increase of drug use, what is she doing about it?

MostWantedBlackVeteran

I’m a blue dog Democrat I don’t do free meals.

rbtdt5

You should have come down to Memorial Park today, a lot of us there honoring our vets.

DickD

We have a Republican Sheriff, Rabbit, what is he doing about the crisis? He went down to Texas, after taking money from FAIR, a known racist organization, slung an assault weapon on his arm and rode up and down the Rio Grande, too dumb to even know that most of the opium comes from Baltimore and not smart enough to know about the synthetics.

computers

“Ain;t it terrible” This we know !
We need to do more than just harm reduction.
The number of new drug users is obviously overwhelming our ability to reverse the epidemic.
Where is the sense of urgency and emphasis to prevent adolescents starting illicit drug use in the first place? One does not wake up one morning at 20 years old, having taken no illicit drugs as an adolescent, and say, “ I think I’ll try heroin today”.

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