Over the past year, opioid overdose deaths in Baltimore, known as the heroin capital of the U.S., have increased by 54 percent, mirroring other cities. Behind this rise is fentanyl, an opioid 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more powerful than heroin, reports BuzzFeed. Whereas most street users might snort or inject 5 to 20 milligrams of heroin, bought and sold in little baggies, just 1 milligram of fentanyl can get someone high. And 2 milligrams will kill. “We have had three overdoses in this three-block area in one weekend,” said community health educator John Harris.
Desperate to curb the death toll, the Baltimore public health department has issued a last-ditch response: handing out free doses of naloxone, which reverses overdoses, to all comers in “hot spots,” as part of its long-running needle exchange program. “We are seeing more and more overdoses in people who have been using heroin for years and years, old timers,” said Derrick Hunt of the Health Department’s Community Risk Reduction Program. Last year, Baltimore Health Commissioner Leana Wen issued a blanket prescription for naloxone to the entire city. Since then, free doses have prevented 500 people from overdosing. “Most naloxone programs operate in coordination with syringe exchange programs,” said Alice Bell of Prevention Point Pittsburgh. “It is a new phenomenon to have naloxone programs operating in other settings,” she added. Increasingly, police office, parents, and spouses in hard-hit communities are also trained.