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Maryland State Police will use a new mass spectrometer to quickly test illicit drugs connected to overdoses in an effort to remove dangerous batches from the streets and prevent overdose deaths, which have been ticking upward for the second year in a row.
The Direct Analysis in Real Time (DART) Mass Spectrometer will test prescription opioids, heroin, fentanyl, and drug paraphernalia collected by law enforcement and harm reduction programs to identify the composition and potency of those drug samples. The program was announced Monday by Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford at the Maryland State Police Forensic Sciences Division office in Pikesville.
Also on Monday, Maryland’s Opioid Operational Command Center released new data showing a slight increase in overdose deaths in the first half of this year. Officials reported 1,217 confirmed opioid-related overdose deaths from January to June 2021, compared to 1,204 overdose deaths during the same time period in 2020.
In 2019, Maryland saw its first annual decrease in opioid deaths in nearly a decade.
“However, the arrival of the COVID pandemic ushered in a new era of health crisis here in Maryland, and we saw an 18% increase in the number of opioid related deaths and that trend continued into the first half of 2021,” Rutherford said. “…And while it’s encouraging that the rates of overdoses and overdose deaths appear to be slowing … statistics show that there is more work to be done. And we will only be satisfied when we see another decline.”
Maryland State Police Superintendent Col. Woodrow W. “Jerry” Jones III said overdoses are being driven up by drugs laced with synthetic opioids, particularly fentanyl, which was present in 83% of the deaths reported so far this year.
“The increase in overdoses and deaths highlights the need to seize the deadly drug before it gets into the hands of a user,” Jones said.
The state police will be the first agency in Maryland to use the DART spectrometer, which details the contents of drugs within minutes.
The scanner can provide “almost instant information indicating the type of drug present in the evidence found at the scene,” Jones said.
Results will help law enforcement agencies better understand the current drug market and help harm reduction programs educate individuals who use drugs on ways to stay safe, officials said.
Analysts are expected to test up to 100 samples each week through December as part of the pilot program.