ANNAPOLIS – Drug- and alcohol-overdose deaths have risen sharply in Maryland since 1997, according to a study released last week.
The study, conducted by the University of Maryland’s Center for Substance Abuse Research, analyzed data from 1997 to 2001 and found the overall rate of alcohol- and drug-related deaths in the state has increased by 16 percent, surpassing the national average.
The most recent figures available show Maryland’s rate in 2000 at 17.5 deaths per 100,000 residents, while nationally there were 12.2 deaths per 100,000.
Heroin remains the most deadly drug in the state, with Baltimore and Central Maryland experiencing some of the highest rates of heroin addiction in the nation.
Alcohol and marijuana have always been the most abused drugs in Maryland, following a nationwide trend. However, in Baltimore, heroin is the No. 1 drug problem, according to Ray Miller, chief of treatment services at the Maryland Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration.
Overdose deaths in Baltimore and Central Maryland, which includes Howard, Harford, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties, account for 80 percent of all such deaths in the state.
“Maryland has for the past 10 to 15 years, led metropolitan areas in terms of drug use. For the past 25 years, heroin has been a big problem in Baltimore and it’s almost historic,” said Bill Rusinko, head of research for the ADAA.
The study also found the face of heroin has changed, and a new generation of heroin users is contributing to the rising numbers.
New heroin users are young, wealthy and white. Overdose deaths among whites in Maryland have risen by 27 percent, while they have risen by less than 5 percent among blacks.
White overdose victims surpassed the number of black overdose victims for the first time in 2001, with whites representing 52 percent of all state overdose deaths.
That data corresponds to the increase of whites entering Maryland drug treatment centers with heroin problems, said Rusinko.
Although men are the primary victims in Maryland, the research center’s study found a dramatic increase, 76 percent, in the number of women dying by drug overdose.
However, the increase of drug overdoses in the state dosen’t necessarily reflect an increase in the number of drug users, warns Erin Artigiani, the center’s policy director.
Improved purity levels make it easier to overdose on heroin, said Detective Philip Tou, an investigator with the Washington/Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.
That has been the case since the early 1990s, agreed Miller. Heroin use is rising because of its higher purity, cheaper cost and en vogue reputation, he said. Also, newer, more naive users, such as suburban high school students who make up heroin’s new generation, tend to think heroin is safe if it isn’t injected. “In the mid-1990s (heroin) became a lot more fashionable,” Miller said. “You had the models with the emaciated look and stars like River Phoenix . . . there is a misconception that if it’s snorted, it’s not as dangerous or addictive.” – 30 – CNS-12-10-02