Drug-overdose deaths surged to new levels in Maryland during the first nine months of 2016, far surpassing the total for all of the previous year as fatalities related to heroin and fentanyl use increased sharply.

The state health department reported Thursday that the number of overdose deaths for January through September climbed to 1,468, a 62 percent jump compared with the same period in 2015, and the sixth straight year that the figure has risen.

The total for the first three quarters of 2016 exceeded the overall sum for the previous year by nearly 17 percent.

Maryland health officials say the alarming trends are part of a nationwide opioid epidemic that involves growing use of heroin, prescription pain medications and fentanyl, the powerful synthetic opioid that killed rock legend Prince in April.

The state’s health secretary, Dennis Schrader, urged Marylanders who are dealing with substance abuse to visit his agency’s online tool for locating treatment centers. “To not seek help for a drug problem now is to risk death,” he said.

Fentanyl-related overdoses accounted for the most drastic increase during the first nine months of 2016, with the number jumping to 738, or nearly triple from the same span last year. Such deaths have been skyrocketing for the past three years, growing more than 33-fold during that time.

State health officials say many people unwittingly buy fentanyl or fentanyl-laced drugs when they try to purchase heroin, which is several times less potent. In the first nine months of this year, there were 503 overdose deaths involving a combination of heroin and fentanyl, compared with 124 in 2015.

The number of deaths related to heroin, including combinations with other drugs, rose to 918, or up 72 percent, during the first three quarters of 2016. The total for prescription opioids, including in combination with other substances, jumped 17 percent to 270.

Baltimore had 481 fatal overdoses from January through September, the highest number of all jurisdictions in the state, and a 65 percent increase compared with the same time frame in 2015.

Anne Arundel County ranked second with 146 deaths, or nearly double its amount from the previous year; Prince George’s County was fourth with 89, a 71 percent rise; and Montgomery County was fifth with 72, a 26 percent uptick.

The growth in fatal overdoses has come despite recent efforts by the state to combat the opioid epidemic.


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