Rate of Opioid Deaths Slowing Overall, But Fentanyl Deaths Surged in 2018

    The number of overdose deaths in Maryland increased by 5 percent last year – driven by an increase in the number of deaths from the powerful drug fentanyl.

    There were 2,385 unintentional intoxication deaths in 2018, nearly 90 percent of them, 2,110, opioid-related.

    The number of deaths from heroin and prescription opioids declined in 2018, by 24 percent and 10 percent respectively. There were 370 prescription opioid-related deaths in the state.

    But the number of fentanyl-related deaths increased by 17 percent to 1,870. Fentanyl and its analogs accounted for approximately 88 percent of opioid-related fatalities in 2018 and 89 percent of deaths from cocaine overdose were in combination with fentanyl. Last year, 780 people died from cocaine-related overdoses in the state, a 30 percent increase from a year earlier.

    Taken together, the opioid-related deaths represent an increase of 5 percent from 2017 — the slowest rate of increase in opioid-related fatalities since 2011.

    “We are encouraged that the epidemic is starting to plateau,” said Steve Schuh, executive director of Maryland’s Opioid Operational Command Center. “2018 was the second year in a row that fatalities increased by less than 10 percent.”

    The figures, which are still preliminary, were included in the command center’s annual report released Thursday.

    The command center was established in March 2017 by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R). The center monitors opioid-related statistics throughout the state and tracks local programs.

    Since last year, the state has seen increases in information campaigns, support for youth harmed by the opioid crisis, and programs to improve employer support for people seeking treatment. Twenty of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions have heroin coordinators to guide local efforts and 22 jurisdictions have programs to refer inmates to treatment programs after being released from local jails.

    Marylanders who need help with a substance use disorder can find information at BeforeItsTooLateMD.org or by calling 211 and pressing 1.

    [email protected]

    Danielle E. Gaines
    Danielle Gaines most recently worked for Bethesda Beat covering Montgomery County. Previously, she spent six years at The Frederick News-Post as the paper’s principal government and politics reporter for half that time, covering courts and legal affairs before that. She also reported for the now-defunct The Gazette of Politics and Business in Maryland and previously worked as a county government and education reporter at the Merced Sun-Star in California’s Central Valley.