Heroin use on the rise in Md.

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland is among several states around the country that have seen an increase in heroin use as many addicts shift from more costly and harder-to-get prescription opiates to a cheaper alternative. Here's a look at what's happening in the state:

THE PROBLEM:

Health officials in Baltimore say heroin use there isn't subject to the dramatic rises and falls that have occurred in other metropolises. Heroin addicts there tend to be older than in other states, and their routines for buying and using the drug are more stable, said Bernard McBride, director of the Behavioral Health System of Baltimore.

But, judging from treatment clinic statistics, it appears the drug is proliferating throughout Maryland's suburban and rural areas, particularly the Eastern Shore and the state's western and northeastern regions, said Michael Baier, overdose prevention coordinator for the state's drug abuse administration.

The state has clamped down on distribution of prescription painkillers, and their street price has apparently risen to roughly $1 a milligram, Baier said.

"You can get potent heroin for far less money than that, from what we're told," he said.

Moreover, heroin is a natural step in an addict's progression toward more powerful substances, he said.

THE NUMBERS:

The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reported 378 heroin-related deaths in 2012, up from 245 the previous year.

About two-thirds of those victims were white, and the greatest share were between the ages 45 and 54.

Figures from 2013 weren't available.

SOLUTIONS:

A law passed last year created a program for training family members of heroin addicts to administer Naloxone, a drug that counters the effects of heroin overdoses. The drug can be injected or administered nasally, and officials say it's not addictive.

Baier said 16 entities are now licensed to provide the training, and 14 of those are county health departments. Some plan to start training sessions in early May. Soon, the state will solicit applications for more training licenses.

He said the state is also trying to increase collaboration among agencies that deal with drug abuse, such as licensing boards that can punish doctors for writing fraudulent prescriptions. And the state has an overdose team that provides guidance and technical assistance for counties.

"It's a dogged problem," McBride said. "It's been around a long time. But I think there's reason to be optimistic."

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