Drug Overdoses on Rise in Virginia, Maryland

Maryland and Virginia have seen a recent spike in fatal overdoses from heroin and jumps in the use of LSD and methadone, including among high school students -- a trend that has both parents and anti-drug advocates worried about drugs that had been popular a generation ago.

Heroin deaths increased from 245 to 378 between 2011 and 2012, according to Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene records obtained by the News4 I-Team. Virginia Medical Examiner reports show a localized surge in Northern Virginia from nine to 22 in a similar timespan. 

A University of Michigan study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, shows steady usage of LSD among 12th graders.

Former heroin addict, Mike Gimbel, who also served as a Baltimore County drug czar, said a drop in prices and a surge in supply has made heroin readily available in many suburban Maryland neighborhoods. Gimbel said dealers are offering increasingly potent and dangerous products. 

“The purity level is like nothing we’ve ever seen before, because they’re fighting for customers,” Gimbel said.

Deaths from methadone, a drug used to combat heroin addiction, are also increasing in Virginia. Fatalities have risen from 103 to 117 in the past 12 months, according to medical examiner reports reviewed by the News4 I-Team.

Celebrity deaths linked to heroin, including the 2013 death of former Glee star Cory Monteith, have raised public awareness of heroin’s newfound resurgence. Maryland State Police drug lab investigators say heroin is now the second most common drug in their evidence files, trailing behind marijuana.

Toni Torsch, a Maryland woman whose son Dan died of a heroin overdose in December 2010, said she was shocked to hear the revelation her son was experimenting with heroin, a drug often associated with the 1960s and early 1990s.

Torsch said she vividly recalls the moments after her son’s overdose.

“The doctor came in and said there was nothing they could do,” Torsch said. “I tried to scream and nothing came out of my mouth.”

Torsch now operates a Maryland chapter of Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing, a charity which offers support and counseling for other families coping with drug abuse and addiction.

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