Drug over­doses sharply up from 2015 statewide

South­ern Mary­land coun­ties see in­creases across the board

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By ANDREW RICHARD­SON arichard­son@somd­news.com

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-

STAFF PHO­TOS BY ANDREW RICHARD­SON

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.

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