In Baltimore, Overdose Death Data Emerge Slowly

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When someone is shot in Baltimore, police release the details swiftly. If the person dies, the police department publicizes the victim’s name soon afterward. The releases allow the public to track the toll of violence in real time. When it comes to heroin and other opioid overdoses, which in recent years have killed far more people than bullets and knives — more than 600 so far this year, more than twice the roughly 250 homicides — real-time information isn’t routinely available, the Baltimore Sun reports. City Councilman Brandon Scott, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, asked city health and police officials whether they could share more information. He said it would help people understand the scope of the overdose crisis. “One of the problems in my opinion with how people view people taking drugs is they think it doesn’t happen in their neighborhoods,” Scott said.

“My personal belief is if we were sharing that data in a public fashion and people could map it on Open Baltimore” — the city’s data website — “they would see that these things are happening across the city and not just in the places where they think they’re happening. It’s different when it’s their neighbor next door and they don’t know why their neighbor died, but we know.” The state Department of Health typically releases overdose numbers quarterly, but the figures are often long delayed. The most recent official numbers are from the first three months of 2017. There are differences between reporting homicides and overdoses. Declaring overdose as a cause of death requires detailed work by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Insiders do have access to preliminary figures before they are released. Deputy Police Commissioner Dean Palmere cited those numbers at the hearing: 1,691 fatal opioid overdoses in the state this year, 632 in Baltimore.

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