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Heroin remains an undisputed concern in Frederick County, but recent reports from regional agencies reveal varying counts of the number of people who died from heroin-related overdoses in 2014.

An annual report released by the state health department several weeks ago listed 26 heroin-related overdose deaths for Frederick County last year.

However, data compiled by the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office from four of the five law enforcement agencies operating in the county reported 27 deaths from heroin-related overdoses in the same period.

“I’m probably more liberal in my classification,” said Nathan Michael, the sheriff’s office crime analyst who routinely tracks the number of heroin-related overdoses in the county.

Michael manually logs each heroin-related overdose, making the determination of whether a person’s death should be categorized as a heroin-related overdose after reading autopsy results and skimming reports stored in a law enforcement database looking for keywords such as “heroin” and “needle.”

“We don’t have any way to just click a button and bring [up] heroin stats,” he said.

This method takes time and can lead to mistakes, as Michael discovered later this year. He had accidentally labeled five heroin-related overdoses in 2014 as fatal, putting the total of heroin-related overdose deaths at 32 instead of the actual 27, he said.

“The total number [of heroin-related overdoses] had been correct, but breakdown of fatal and nonfatal had been incorrect. ... That was my fault,” Michael said.

The sheriff’s office reported a total of 98 heroin-related overdoses in Frederick County last year: 71 nonfatal and 27 fatal, according to Michael.

The data include numbers from the sheriff’s office as well as the Frederick, Thurmont and Brunswick police departments. Maryland State Police do not collect data on heroin-related overdoses.

The Vital Statistics Administration uses a similar process to assemble the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s annual report on drug- and alcohol-related deaths.

Using toxicology and autopsy results from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and additional resources when needed, DHMH works to classify each unintentional intoxication death, according to Isabelle Horon, the director of the Vital Statistics Administration.

“We don’t include homicides, suicides or natural deaths. ... What we’re looking for [are] overdoses that occur because the individual took the drugs, not intending for death to be the outcome,” Horon said.

Determining how to categorize each death can be difficult, Horon said, especially if the results show various drugs and alcohol were involved.

In 2014, 25 percent of heroin-related deaths occurred in combination with alcohol, 22 percent with cocaine and 18 percent with fentanyl, according to the report.

“If the cause of death says heroin, that’s simple; we know it’s a heroin death,” Horon said.

But for deaths that appear to involve a combination of substances, the Vital Statistics Administration does more research, looking at scene investigation reports and notes from investigators.

For example, “the investigator may write in his report, ‘This was a known heroin addict ... [person was found] using heroin, found spoons and needles’ ... [so] obviously it’s a heroin-related death,” Horon said.

Once the drugs and alcohol involved in the death are identified, the fatality would be listed under each substance category.

Frederick County ranked sixth statewide for highest number of heroin-related overdose deaths. Baltimore city and Baltimore County topped the list with 192 and 83 reported deaths, respectively.

Dorchester County had zero reported drug- and alcohol-related intoxication deaths in 2014, according to the report.

Dorchester County “was the only jurisdiction that had no deaths,” Horon said. “In earlier years, many of the smaller counties had very few deaths. Unfortunately, the counts are growing everywhere.”

Follow Paige Jones on Twitter: @paigeleejones.

Paige Jones covers business and biotech in Frederick County. She started at the paper in 2014 as a nighttime crime reporter before switching to business. A Kansas transplant in Maryland, she enjoys exploring the East Coast in her free time.

(4) comments

bizness

How to dramatically reduce drug induced deaths in a sane and civilized manner.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/06/05/why-hardly-anyone-dies-from-a-drug-overdose-in-portugal/

MAVRICKinc7

The drug is NEW and can be administered by anyone acredited to administer. No pun intended but the drug is called Narcan.

Nathan Michael, Frederick Sheriffs office provides MANUALLY logs heroin overdoses while standing behind his conclusion, "We don't have anyway to just click a button, and brinbg up heroin stats" which ultimately leads to MISTAKES.

Maryland's Vital Statistics Administration is apparently strapped with the same kind of guess work the Sheriff's office is confronted with to this date.

Simply said, do we have any idea how bad the heroin problem, distribution, manufacturing and DEATHS are in Frederick, that, so far, we can only talk about, guess about but REMAIN at arms length from drugs an addictions that walk the streets of the Frederick Region on a daily basis.

DickD: while you like the FACT heroin deaths are declining, how would you know the difference when the FACTS are really at odds with itself, because we count with our toes and fingers, where counting can be off, on any day of the week or year, by 20%, due to human error?

How can we claim to have a problem, when we continue to ignore the headines that say otherwise. Haven't we been doing the same thing, over and over again , for decades and remain at square one and COUNTING manually kept stats that can be skewed from one day to the next? We can dance around this serious and insidious problem all we want but the FACT really is we haven't even scratched the surface of addictiions, of any kind, that has persisted for centuries and still GROWING by leaps and bounds in Frederick and the world we live in.

The current tally of deaths may or may not be 27 at last count. How do we account for the 71 who didn't die of an over dose, but came close enough, on their own accord, to death. How do we measure drug addictions that walk around every day without notice? How big is that NUMBER and who's really counting? Death is one measure and near death is another, but what does that have to do with the numbers of addicts confined to drug and alcohol Rehabilitation Centers. How many have died on their watch, how many treated, only to return to the same addictions they initially came from.

We can go from one shoe box to the next, put it on a shelf or in a folder of our making, let it collect dust, only to reopen them, again and again, to the same questions and problems we have yet to solve, because the real problem is in someone elses back yard and not our own.

Statistics will remain one of the pillors that support the lie, much like we lie to ourselves and are lied to every day, with NUMBERS, POLLS and political logistics and logic intended to move us around and make believe all is right with the world, which it is not.

Since you are forcasting future overdose rates, are your FOUND numbers any better than those published in today's FNP artictle?

DickD

I like the fact that heroin overdose deaths are declining. Looking at the statistics for this year, it appears about 15 overdose deaths will occur. I would like to know how many deaths were prevented by the use of drugs police and ambulance people are carrying and how many deaths have gone down strictly because of law enforcement and educational efforts on drug usage.

quemzeee2

It is big bussiness, Lots of investors and apears to be backed by tax dollars.

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