The number of heroin overdose deaths in Maryland in 2012 was higher than the number of homicides. The reason for the drug's resurgence is easy to decipher, according to state health officials. People who have been prescribed strong painkillers like Oxycontin and become addicted to them often turn to heroin because it's cheaper to buy on the street, and easier to get since new restrictions are in place for Oxycontin prescriptions.
Kathleen Rebert-Franklin is the acting director of Maryland's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration. Since over-prescribing painkillers can be a problem, she says starting in November, doctors will be allowed to access a database showing what pharmacies and other drug dispensers have already doled out to individuals.
"As they determine whether to write a prescription, they can look at the data that's available in the system," she says. "And make a decision that's in the best interest of the patient."
But Rebert-Franklin adds local health departments will be the real key in lowering overdose deaths. In Prince George's County, information gathering and use of the data is again at the forefront of anti-drug efforts. Pamela Creekmur, the county's chief health officer, says they've started breaking down by zip code the people who have sought treatment at government-run rehab centers.
"It was surprising... some of the zip codes," she says. "They were neighborhoods that are considered affluent and great neighborhoods. I like to say bullets really don't have anyone's name on them and neither does drug abuse."
Zip codes in Temple Hills and Fort Washington saw increases of more than 75 percent in people seeking help at government-run drug treatment centers last year. Creekmur says by using that information, the county will likely set up centers in those areas.