After years of decline, deaths caused by heroin overdoses are on the rise in Maryland, according to data released Friday by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
In the first seven months of 2012, 205 people died due to heroin overdose. That is up 41 percent from the same period in 2011, when 145 people died.
The largest jump was seen in Central Maryland, which includes Baltimore, from 99 in 2011 to 145 in 2012.
“The rise in overdoses from heroin is a new and concerning trend,” said Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, secretary of the health department.
For the same seven-month period, health officials reported a reduction in the number of fatal overdoses from prescription opioids, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone, to 177 this year from 208 in 2011.
Health officials said they believe the two trends are related, as people addicted to prescription drugs turn to heroin for a relatively cheap and accessible alternative.
Heroin use declined in the state from 2007 to 2011, as prescription drug abuse rose.
The number of admissions to public substance-abuse treatment services for prescription opioid abuse more than doubled from 2008 to 2011.
Officials say that heightened awareness of prescription drug addiction in the medical community and general public, as well as a reduction in the supply of pharmaceuticals available for abuse, may have succeeded in making such prescription drugs less available.
To combat the increase in heroin use, the health department plans to continue to work with health care providers to identify potential heroin users and get them into treatment.
For all drugs, overdose deaths were up 6 percent, from 365 in 2011 to 385 in 2012.
In addition, the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, established by law in 2011, is under development. The department is in the procurement process with information technology companies to build the infrastructure needed to track individuals’ prescription information. Physicians and pharmacists will have access to the information to monitor whether patients could be abusing prescription drugs.