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Deadly fentanyl overdoses surge 345% from 2015 to 2016 in Frederick County

Fatal heroin overdoses also spiked
Posted at 6:23 PM, Jun 09, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-09 19:03:27-04

It's every community, impacting every age, gender and ethnic group.

"Certainly, the opioid epidemic is at an all-time high," said Steve Custer.

“It's a tragedy, I don't know how to reverse it," Tom Rozynek said.

It's a devastating health crisis. Illegal opioids are taking lives in record amounts.

"This is an absolutely across the board epidemic that we're trying to deal with," said Frederick Police Department Lieutenant Clark Pennington.

Frederick County doesn't have the triple-digit deaths reported in larger jurisdictions. However, the numbers show a huge surge in fatal opioid overdoses from 2015 to 2016. Heroin killed 46 people last year, a nearly 77 percent increase.

The synthetic opioid fentanyl did even more damage. The cheap and powerful street drug is often mixed with other narcotics without the user's knowledge. County-wide, it contributed to 49 overdose deaths in 2016, jumping up almost five-fold.

Pennington say's the force has been working hard to try and turn those numbers around.

"We work with our Health Department, we work with our outreach coordinators, we work with other law enforcement agencies,” he said.

Grants from the Governor's office allowed the department to hire a Heroin Coordinator to crunch data and flag trends, and also bring on a peer recovery coach to link addicts with resources.

Pennington says they’re focusing on a three pronged approach, targeting education, prevention and enforcement.

"This is absolutely a community issue,” he said. “This is not a law enforcement issue, this isn't a health department issue, this is something that all of our organizations need to come together and work on."

Recognizing the spike in opioid overdoses last year, the department made a policy change and now sends detectives to fatal overdose scenes to gather evidence and stop the flow of the deadly narcotics.

"We're trying to find out where the drugs are coming from, and then ultimately backtrack from that overdose to the dealers or the individuals who are bringing that heroin or fentanyl or whatever it is that person overdosed on," said Pennington.

In the city, police do think their efforts are working. For 2017, opioid overdoses are down nearly 29 percent compared to this same time last year.