Drug overdoses sharply up from 2015 statewide
Southern Maryland counties see increases across the board
As the opioid epidemic continues to claim lives across the nation, new data released by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene shows a sharp spike in overdose fatalities across the state and in areas of Southern Maryland, despite coordinated efforts and initiatives from government agencies.
Charles, Calvert and St. Mary’s counties all have seen an increased rate of drug and alcohol intoxication-related deaths, according to the latest DHMH report. The report, which compares preliminary data from January through September 2016 to previous years, indicates that the counties are on pace for
a record number of lives lost, with over twice as many fatali- ties in Charles County during this period compared to 2015, and slight increases in Calvert and St. Mary’s as well.
Through the third-quarter in 2016, Charles County saw 34 unintentional drug and alcohol intoxication-related deaths — approximately a 227 percent jump from the 15 fatalities recorded during this time in 2015, the data indicates. Compara- tively, Calvert County with 18 fatalities and St. Mary’s County with 12 each increased by two deaths. Collectively as a state, Maryland saw 1,468 fatalities through the third-quarter 2016, about a 62 percent increase from 904 deaths in 2015. In 2010, this figure was 465.
The report indicates that the statewide death toll is driven in large part by heroin and Fen- tanyl, an extremely potent syn- thetic opiate, which the Drug Enforcement Agency warns can be up to 50 times more powerful than heroin. In 2015, the DEA issued a national alert advising that Fentanyl is being mixed with heroin for increased potency, sometimes without a drug user’s knowledge, which can have lethal consequenc- es. Though the Schedule II narcotic is legally prescribed for chronic pain management, Fentanyl is also being manufac- tured in clandestine drug labs, the agency reported.
Notably, while there were 22 statewide fatalities relat- ed to Fentanyl through the third-quarter in 2013, during the same time in 2016, that number skyrocketed to 738, ac- cording to the data released by the DHMH.
Though there is no simple solution to such a multifactori- al issue, agencies in Southern Maryland have been implementing numerous approaches to combat the problem. Local law enforcement officers in each county have been trained by their respective health departments to administer Nar- can, or the generic Nalaxone, a drug used to reverse the ef- fects of a suspected opiate-induced overdose. Through the DHMH’s Overdose Response Program, health department officials and other certified agency’s are training citizens to administer the life-saving drug as well, and have trained more than 39,000 people since its establishment in March 2014, the DHMH reported.
Those certified to administer Nalaxone are also able to obtain more doses at pharmacies throughout Maryland, thanks to a statewide standing order. What is more, amendments made to Maryland’s “Good Samaritan” law grant a person immunity from arrest or prosecution for misdemeanor drug possession charges if he or she seeks, provides or assists someone reasonably believed to be experiencing a medical emergency after ingesting drugs or alcohol.
Another example is the prescription drug “take back” program that has availed numerous dropbox locations in Charles, Calvert and St. Mary’s counties for those wishing to safely discard unwanted medi-
A memorial rock garden sits outside the Jude House in Bel Alton with stones dedicated to those who have died from overdose.
Dr. Meena Brewster, St. Mary’s County health officer, teaches how to properly administer naloxone to someone who appears to have overdosed on heroin or opioids. About 30 people were certified during the free overdose response training in October at Chopticon High School after the documentary film “Chasing the Dragon.” Each was given a free dose of naloxone.