Maryland’s Heroin Deaths Increase as Prescription Drug Abuse Declines

The number of people in Maryland who have switched from abusing prescription drugs to heroin is on the rise, resulting in an increase in heroin-related deaths, according to The Baltimore Sun.

Suburban teenagers who became addicted to prescription drugs are now buying heroin from drug dealers, the newspaper reports. “The kids who got addicted to prescription pills are flipping to heroin, and, as a result, these kids are dropping like flies,” said Mike Gimbel, a drug counselor at University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center.

The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene released a report that finds there were 205 heroin-related overdose deaths in the first seven months of 2012, compared with 145 during the same period in 2011—an increase of 41 percent. Overdose deaths related to prescription painkillers including oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone decreased 15 percent during the same period, from 208 to 177. Overall deaths from drug overdoses increased 6 percent.

The number of prescriptions for commonly abused drugs has declined as a result of efforts by federal, state and local governments, as well as law enforcement agencies and medical communities. Law enforcement officials shut down pill mills and clinics that sold drugs illegally. The state passed a law last year that created a prescription drug monitoring system, which is scheduled to be operational by the end of next year. Doctors are currently using electronic medical records to check patients’ drug history. They can see which patients are visiting more than one doctor for pain pills.

With fewer prescription drugs available on the street, the price of those drugs increased. Heroin has become a cheaper and more easily accessible option.

“The rise in overdoses from heroin is a new and concerning trend,” Maryland Health Department Secretary Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein said in a news release. “By addressing this issue, we can continue the progress Maryland has made against drug addiction.”