Maryland overdose deaths continued to soar in the first part of the year (Baltimore Sun)

The number of drug-and alcohol-related deaths in Maryland climbed 37 percent in the first three months of this year, with the biggest increase related to people taking opioids laced with the potent additive fentanyl.

There were 550 overdose deaths, including 372 from fentanyl, a cheap and powerful drug coming into the U.S. from overseas that mixed in with heroin, typically without people knowing, according to data released Friday by the Maryland Department of Health. The number of deaths from fentanyl soared 137 percent from 157 deaths during the same period last year.

The numbers were not surprising to public health officials who said they only expect the problem to get worse.

“We have not even come close to reaching the peak of this epidemic,” said Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen, who called the numbers “devastating.”

“We just have to double up our efforts,” she said.

Adrienne Breidenstine, a spokeswoman for Behavioral Health System Baltimore, said the organization’s outreach teams continue to see signs of fentanyl, and a second additive called carfentanil, on the streets.The additives are 50 and 100 times more potent than heroin, respectively. It is taking two and sometimes three times the amount of naloxone, a drug that reverses overdoses, to revive people who have taken fentanyl, Breidenstine said.

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"Heat is the leading weather-related killer in the United States, resulting in hundreds of fatalities and many thousands of illnesses nationwide each year," said Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen. "Heat is a silent killer, and is particularly dangerous to those who are young and elderly, and with chronic medical conditions. Residents must take all precautions to ensure their own safety as well as the safety of family and neighbors."

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