Of­fi­cials call for strat­egy on opi­oid epi­demic

County ex­ec­u­tives say col­lab­o­ra­tion needed as drugs take hold in Md.

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND - By Fa­timah Waseem

State and lo­cal of­fi­cials called for broad col­lab­o­ra­tion to bat­tle the opi­oid epi­demic grip­ping Mary­land at a sum­mit Tues­day or­ga­nized by lead­ers of Anne Arun­del, Har­ford and Howard coun­ties.

Anne Arun­del County Ex­ec­u­tive Steve Schuh said the surge in opi­oid-re­lated deaths shows that re­cent statewide ef­forts to fund preven­tion and treat­ment are “not work­ing.”

Po­lice and health of­fi­cials are “over­run” by the epi­demic, said Lt. Gov. Boyd Ruther­ford, who chairs the state’s task force on heroin and opi­oid ad­dic­tion. He said early ed­u­ca­tion and public out­reach are needed to stem the epi­demic.

Statewide deaths linked to opi­oid use, fu­eled by a rise in pre­scrip­tion drug abuse, have in­creased by more than 100 per­cent in the last five years.

County ex­ec­u­tives said their own ju­ris­dic­tions’ ef­forts alone have not been enough.

In Howard County, heroin-re­lated deaths dou­bled from eight in 2014 to 16 in 2015.

This year, roughly 74 per­cent of all over­dose deaths in the county stemmed from heroin use.

“We can­not ar­rest our way out of this,” Howard County Po­lice Chief Gary Gard­ner said.

A 2013 state law that pro­tects by­standers who help oth­ers in over­dose emer­gen­cies from crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion was an im­por­tant first step in tack­ling the epi­demic, Gard­ner said.

Be­fore the law passed, Gard­ner said, po­lice rou­tinely found opi­oid users left in cars or park­ing lots.

Howard County plans to use a $70,000 state grant to hire a heroin co­or­di­na­tor to work with lo­cal health and po­lice de­part­ments and gather in­for­ma­tion when officers re­spond to calls about il­le­gal opi­oid use

Po­lice in Howard have dubbed U.S. 40 “Heroin High­way.”

But even the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Nalox­one — the pre­scrip­tion nasal spray that can re­verse the ef­fects of an opi­oid over­dose — is “a dou­ble-edged sword,” said Howard County Ex­ec­u­tive Al­lan Kit­tle­man.

Users some­times rely on the treat­ment as a last re­sort to save them, Kit­tle­man said.

In some cases, the Howard County Po­lice Depart­ment has ad­min­is­tered the treat­ment to the same in­di­vid­ual sev­eral times.

Po­lice be­gan ad­min­is­ter­ing the spray in June last year, said Matthew Levy, med­i­cal di­rec­tor of the county’s po­lice, fire and EMS ser­vices.

Fire and res­cue ser­vices have ad­min­is­tered it for at least 20 years.

The num­ber of times Howard County first re­spon­ders have ad­min­is­tered Nalox­one has al­most dou­bled over the past year, Levy said.

Har­ford County has sur­passed the num­ber of heroin over­dose deaths from 2015, County Ex­ec­u­tive Barry Glass­man said. He said the epi­demic rec­og­nizes no ZIP codes or de­mo­graphic groups and per­me­ates all com­mu­ni­ties.

De­spite ef­forts to im­prove public out­reach, he said, heroin con­tin­ues to take a hold on the county.

Schuh said the fight against heroin use is a top pri­or­ity.

He called opi­oid ad­dic­tion an “oc­to­pus from hell” with “ten­ta­cles that reach ev­ery as­pect of life.”

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