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Gov. O'Malley Discusses Drug Overdose Deaths In Maryland

ELKTON, Md. (WJZ) -- Drugs and deaths. The Maryland Health Department is addressing a 15 percent hike in fatal drug overdoses in Maryland.

Pat Warren reports on Friday's forum in Cecil County.

Cecil County has a problem with drugs.

"It's so bad here. Like, it's very, very bad," said Stephanie Berry.

Cecil County has seen nearly an 800 percent increase -- nearly double the number statewide -- of people admitted to treatment for prescription drug abuse.

"I lost everything. My son was with my mother. I lost my home, my car. I had no job. I had nothing," Berry said.

Increased numbers are also seen in Baltimore, Harford and Carroll Counties. And prescription drugs are only part of the problem.

"Heroin is now surging back," said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, DHMH.

Counties around the state are experiencing increases in heroin use. According to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the increase in fatal drug overdoses in the state was driven by heroin--up 54 percent.

Overall, drug abuse is a major public health and safety issue.

"It sure is. We've lost more people in our state in 2011 to heroin overdoses than we lost to homicides," Governor O'Malley said. "And sadly our neighbors here in Cecil County have now become the leader in the dubious category of having the highest rate of overdose deaths. Some are heroin-related, some are them are related to prescription drugs."

A roundtable discussion in Cecil County addressed the issues there and around the state. Leah Edgecomb suffered cardiac arrest and brain damage from heroin use.

"I think I knew that immediately something was wrong," said Edgecomb.  "The next thing you know, I'm unconscious. I'm trapped in my body at 17 years old."

Reducing drug abuse is at the top of the state's to-do list.

"Because we can't sit back and allow so many young people to lose their lives to overdose deaths," the governor said.

The state is developing a prescription drug monitoring system that will be implemented in the fall.

Treatment services are available. You can get more information any time by calling 211.

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