Two killed in weekend crashes
bshea@ cecilwhig. com
— Two motorists are dead and two passengers are injured after separate single- vehicle crashes on opposite sides of the county this weekend.
Early Saturday morning, an Elkton man was pronounced dead at the scene of a Colora crash, according to Cecil County Sheriff’s Office officials.
The incident occurred at 1: 27 a. m. Saturday in
state’s increase in overdose deaths at 21 percent.
In counties of similar size to Cecil, it was a mixed bag. Calvert County saw an increase of 17 percent over last year in total overdose deaths, while St. Mary’s County increased 100 percent. Wicomico County, which has a nearly identical population base as Cecil County, saw a decrease of 10 percent.
On Friday, Cecil County Health Officer Stephanie Garrity said the findings were not shocking.
“The increase does distress me, but it doesn’t surprise me,” she said. “We’re just seeing what is happening throughout the state and the country.”
Perhaps most troubling in the new data is the dramatic rise in the number of fentanyl-related deaths. The county saw seven such deaths in 2015 after just one the year prior, and never had more than two in any recorded year. The drug is an extremely strong opiate — roughly 100 times more potent than morphine — that is increasingly being mixed with heroin, according to reports across the region. Because of its potency, the risk of overdosing with fentanyl-laced heroin is much higher.
“Fentanyl is a double-edged sword, in that it comes as both a pharmaceutical for use with pretty severe pain and also non-pharmaceutical when it’s typically mixed with heroin for the sole purpose of abusing it,” said Karl Webner, the Cecil County Health Department’s overdose prevention coordinator. “The difficulty lies in getting information out into the community to those who are still engaged in active use. They need to be aware that the heroin they’re buying on the street could easily contain this drug, and they need to have more caution than ever before when engaging in this already high-risk behavior.”
Webner said fentanyl was an issue that neighboring states began noticing early last year, as producers began cutting heroin with it to increase potency and lower cost, and it then crept into Maryland. Fentanyl-related deaths in Cecil County increased from one to two to three over the last three quarters of last year.
“We’re a little late to the party, but it’s definitely here,” he said. “What I’m hearing from people on the street is that it’s becoming more prevalent.”
Garrity noted that Cecil County law enforcement agencies and their contact with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency via the county’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area designation allows local officials to keep tabs on growing regional trends. An upcoming HIDTA summit will further that information sharing, officials noted.
Meanwhile, benzodiazepine-related deaths, or those that involve a sedative, increased by two to five deaths compared to the prior year, and alcohol-related deaths rose by three to eight — the second highest total ever recorded in the county.
Elsewhere in the report, however, the county statistics were more encouraging. Prescription opiaterelated deaths decreased by two to 10 this year, while oxycodone- related deaths were cut in half to three. Methadone-related deaths decreased by one to three and cocaine-related deaths fell by one to three.
Garrity believes those numbers are the result of the state’s progress with its Prescription Drug Monitoring Program to crack down on the overprescribing of narcotics, and she hopes a new law taking effect Oct. 1 to require any doctor who wants to prescribe a controlled dangerous substance to use the PDMP will have a further deterrent effect. Maryland is also working with physicians to educate them on the dangers of prescribing narcotics.
“The pendulum is moving back from prescribing without a lot of education to being educated and prescribing accordingly,” she said.
Webner added that the growth of peer recovery advocates, or people in long-term recovery who advocate for treatment, and the launch of a resource website, RewriteYourScript.org, have also helped county physicians discuss substance abuse with their patients.
“The county took a different tact with its state-funded information campaign as most of the others focused on the evils of heroin,” Garrity noted. “But we really wanted to focus on recovery and the fact that help is out there, and people are successful in their recovery.”
Health department officials pointed out that while the annual DHMH report tracks fatal overdoses, it doesn’t report positive growth indicators. Webner noted there are 64 known lives saved by the 973 trained members of the public and law enforcement offi- cers over the past two years as the result of the health department’s naloxone program, which has disseminated and trained on the use of the overdose-reversing drug. A Vivitrol program at the Cecil County Detention Center has also served several dozen inmates who are looking to continue in sobriety after release.
“I spoke to a mother whose son enrolled in the Vivitrol program after he got into some trouble,” Webner said. “She called me the other day to tell me he had received his fourth shot and was doing better than he’s ever done.”
Ken Collins, director of the Cecil County Health Department’s Alcohol and Drug Recovery Center, also reported that Cecil County now boasts 10 recovery homes with more than 75 total beds to support those entering recovery. A growing number of those in recovery are also shedding their anonymity in order advocate for recovery resources and battle stigma, led by the nonprofit Voices of Hope for Cecil County.
Collins said that the health department is always discussing new ideas to pilot that may help make an impact on substance abuse rates. One such idea is to get more involved with detention center inmates prior to their release in order to better ensure they are connected to resources.
“We’ve also had success with peers in hospitals, but what about peers tagging along with law enforcement?” he said, noting a pilot program for such a partnership is being discussed. “We want to get involved with people before an overdose.”