The U.S. opioid crisis shows no sign of receding as a new year begins, with the latest data from several hard-hit cities and states showing overdose fatalities reaching new peaks as authorities scramble to stem the tide, reports the Wall Street Journal. The synthetic opioid fentanyl, which has up to 50 times the potency of heroin, remains the chief culprit driving the increase in fatalities, say medical examiners and health and law-enforcement authorities in abuse hot spots such as Ohio, Maryland and New England. Federal data for 2015 deaths came out only last month, showing a nearly 16 percent climb to 33,091 opioid deaths in the year. Many jurisdictions are still compiling the grim tallies for 2016.
“We’re just really awash in drug deaths, and it got acutely worse,” said Thomas Gilson, the medical examiner in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, which includes Cleveland and is the state’s most populous county. So far, his office has recorded 517 deaths from heroin and fentanyl in 2016, more than double the number from the previous year. Pennsylvania is on track to have a significant statewide rise in 2016, said Patrick Trainor of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which tallies overdose data for the state. Philadelphia alone may surpass 900 overdoses in 2016, up from 720 the prior year, he said. In Maryland, the latest data show an estimated 1,468 overdose deaths through September 2016, which exceeds the entire tally from 2015. Authorities in Baltimore, a longtime heroin hot spot with a rising fentanyl problem, said overdose deaths surged 68 percent to 481 in the first nine-months last year, compared with the same period a year earlier.