Maryland Seeking County Input to Combat Growing Heroin Problem - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Maryland Seeking County Input to Combat Growing Heroin Problem

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SALISBURY, Md.- Prescription drug abuse is down across Delmarva, but another growing problem has taken its place. According to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, heroin use and heroin-related deaths are up statewide. The state is counting on local jurisdictions to help fix the issue. 

Earlier this year, the state reached out to its counties, giving them the task of coming up with a plan to reduce overdose. It is all laid out in this document: the Maryland Opioid Overdose Prevention Plan.

Here in Wicomico County, the focus on the heroin problem is mirrored all across the state.

According to the state Health Department, during the first seven months of 2012, the Eastern Shore of Maryland saw an 80 percent increase in heroin-related deaths, compared to the same period in 2011. At the same time, deaths related to prescription drugs fell by 36 percent.

"They're switching a legal opioid for an illegal opioid," explained Cynthia Shifler with the Wicomico County Health Department. "And one is cheaper than the other. Usually, heroin is cheaper than prescription drugs."

Shifler says it is because of the alarming increase in heroin overdoses that the state of Maryland is now reaching out to its counties.

"There's a lot of data that we don't have, so we're trying to work with groups and agencies to be able to collect that data or find some kind of uniform collection, so that we're able to get it," Shifler noted. "Because that's going to be what we're measured up against. If we're not effective, we may need to tweak our strategies."

The state's Opioid Overdose Prevention Plan includes several strategies. Among them: enhanced surveillance of overdoses, treatment of substance abuse and overdose prevention efforts.

The collaborative efforts do not stop with health departments.

"A, number one thing in law enforcement, as far as I'm concerned, is the sharing of information," said Fruitland Police Chief Michael Phillips. "Because if you don't know about a problem, you can't do anything about it."

Local overdose prevention plan drafts were submitted about two weeks ago. The final plans are due back to the state by June 30th.

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