Don’t lose sight of progress

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE -

This past week, we re­ceived the un­for­tu­nate news that Ce­cil County’s num­ber of fa­tal drug and al­co­hol over­doses reached new highs in 2015, in­clud­ing a grow­ing num­ber from the newly emerg­ing threat of fen­tanyl.

The county saw 32 fa­tal over­doses last year, an in­crease of three deaths, or 10 per­cent, over the pre­vi­ous year, ac­cord­ing to the Mary­land Depart­ment of Health and Men­tal Hy­giene re­port.

Of those deaths, 16 were heroin-re­lated, an in­crease of one death, or 6 per­cent, over the pre­vi­ous year. The 16 heroin-re­lated deaths is the high­est recorded Ce­cil County to­tal by DHMH since it started track­ing over­dose sta­tis­tics in 2007. Since 2010, the num­ber of heroin deaths statewide has more than tripled, with 748 re­ported last year.

Per­haps most trou­bling in the 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.

The find­ings in the state re­port are not shock­ing to any­one who has been keeping in­formed on the ori­gins of the cur­rent sub­stance abuse cri­sis and the chal­lenges in com­bat­ing it. The growth of phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal painkiller pre­scrip­tions in the 2000s dra­mat­i­cally in­creased the num­ber of those ad­dicted and when their in­sur­ance or funds ran out, the much cheaper heroin be­came the drug of choice. Heroin con­tin­ues to be an emer­gency prob­lem in Mary­land, and the in­tro­duc­tion of fen­tanyl, which can be added to heroin to make a more po­tent drug, only ex­ac­er­bates the threat of an over­dose.

With those chal­lenges un­der­stood, Ce­cil County has been among the fore­front of those mak­ing a dif­fer­ence in chang­ing the cul­ture and stigma sur­round­ing ad­dic­tion. Our county ex­ec­u­tive, county coun­cil and health care com­mu­nity have made a con­certed ef­fort to make drug treat­ment and re­cov­ery a pri­or­ity in re­cent years. While over­doses have con­tin­ued to slowly in­crease here, we are also mak­ing a sig­nif­i­cant amount of progress.

While Ce­cil County’s sta­tis­tics rose, its in­creases were not as dra­matic as other ar­eas of the state. Har­ford County saw an in­crease of 16 per­cent in to­tal over­dose deaths, while both Bal­ti­more County and City rose 29 per­cent. Ce­cil County was also un­der the state’s over­all in­crease in over­dose deaths at 21 per­cent.

The growth of peer re­cov­ery ad­vo­cates, or peo­ple in long-term re­cov­ery who ad­vo­cate for treat­ment, and the launch of a re­source web­site,, have also helped county physi­cians dis­cuss ad­dic­tion with their pa­tients.

There are 64 known lives saved by the 973 trained mem­bers of the pub­lic and law en­force­ment of­fi­cers 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 over­dosere­vers­ing 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 by tak­ing the pre­scrip­tion drug that de­nies the eu­phoric feel­ing from opi­ates for up to a month. The Ce­cil County Health Depart­ment’s Al­co­hol and Drug Re­cov­ery Cen­ter is also as­sess­ing more peo­ple for treat­ment than ever, with a 28 per­cent in­crease in the first quar­ter of 2016 com­pared to 2015.

To­day, Ce­cil County boasts 10 re­cov­ery homes with more than 75 to­tal beds to sup­port those en­ter­ing re­cov­ery, when just three years ago there were none at all. 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.

Un­for­tu­nately, the ad­dic­tion bat­tle is too of­ten scored by its losses rather than its vic­to­ries. While we grieve each and ev­ery per­son who loses his or her bat­tle to sub­stance abuse via an over­dose, we have to re­main fo­cused on mak­ing progress. And that ad­vance­ment is ev­i­dent here — some­times we just have to look be­yond the sound­bites.

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