Drug overdose deaths in Baltimore drop

Local,Therese Umerlik
Drug overdose deaths in Baltimore have dropped dramatically this year, but health officials aren’t ready to declare victory.

“I am pleased to see the decline, [but] we still have a long way to go to end this problem,” said Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Joshua Sharfstein.

Drug-related deaths dropped 24 percent among city residents in the first half of this year compared with the first six months of 2007.

The state medical examiner’s office reported 79 drug- or alcohol-associated deaths between Jan. 1 and June 30 compared with 104 deaths during the same period this past year.

There were 95 deaths in the city regardless of the person’s residence, which is also a 22 percent drop from the previous year’s period, according to the report, which was released Thursday from the health department using data from the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Deaths associated with heroine, cocaine and methadone also fell more than 20 percent.

The most dramatic drop was in methadone-related deaths, which dipped 51 percent — from 41 deaths among residents in the first half of 2007 to 24 in the same period of 2008.

Alcohol-related deaths increased in 2008 to 27 from 24, according to the report.

The drug overdose decline could be a result of effective drug outreach programs, or it could just be a random dip, Sharfstein said.

He pointed to the city’s Buprenorphine Initiative for treating opiate addicts as a program that is engaging the medical community to work toward fewer overdoses.

The program received national recognition from the federal Agency for Health Care Research, which published a profile on the initiative in a database for innovations, health department officials announced Thursday.

Drug addiction specialist Mike Gimbel, who now directs a steroid awareness campaign at St. Joseph Medical Center, said if this trend continues, “that’s wonderful news.”

“Any decrease in alcohol- or drug-related deaths is encouraging.”

In recent years, drug and alcohol abuse have moved more into the suburbs, he said, and he questioned whether deaths were declining in surrounding counties.

Cindy Feldstein, a secretary in the state medical examiner’s office who helped prepare this city data, did not have statewide data readily available Thursday, but said “the trend is downward” in overdoses across the state.
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