Fatal overdoses in Baltimore reached their lowest level in five years last year, the Baltimore Sun reports. The city health commissioner and some experts attribute the drop to an expansion in drug treatment and distribution of an anti-overdose medication to heroin addicts trained to administer it in emergencies. The city recorded 261 fatal overdoses from illicit drugs last year, down 12 percent from 2003 and 22 percent below the highest total of the past five years, 336 deaths in 2002. It is the first time in five years that the number has been lower than the homicide total — 278 in 2004.
Baltimore still far outpaces most other cities in its overdose rate. Health Commissioner Peter L. Beilenson said that the vast majority involved heroin or heroin in combination with cocaine. While there was no way of determining what caused last year’s drop, Beilenson believes the city’s Staying Alive initiative — paid for by billionaire George Soros’ Open Society Institute — was a big factor. The year-old program trains addicts to recognize an overdose, do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and administer Narcan, an antidote that can revive a person near death from a heroin overdose. The institute hopes to find other donors to help sustain the program after a two-year, $340,000 grant runs out next year.