Drug overdose deaths reach record high statewide
More than 2,000 Marylanders died from drug and alcohol overdose in 2016
The number of Marylanders who died from drug and alcohol-related overdose in 2016 reached an all-time high of 2,089, a 66 percent increase from 2015, according to a newly released report from the state’s health department.
Similar to the upward trend statewide, Southern Maryland saw 88 deaths, a nearly 50 percent increase compared to 2015.
Substances like heroin and fentanyl now kill more people every year than car accidents. The total number of those who died from overdoses in the region nearly doubled the number of those who were killed in car accidents in 2016.
Along with Garrett and
Cecil counties, St. Mary’s County is one of three counties statewide to see the number of total overdose deaths decline. In 2016, 15 people died in St. Mary’s, two fewer than 2015. Neighboring Calvert County had 28 fatalities due to overdose, eight more than 2015.
Charles County had 45 drug and alcohol-related overdose deaths, more than doubling its 2015 number and accounting for half of all deaths in the tri-county area.
“It’s certainly extremely disappointing to see the numbers still climbing,” said Dr. Laurence Polsky, Calvert’s health officer. “One can only wonder how much higher the number would be” without the continuing efforts from organizations and individuals to address the crisis, he said.
Polsky noted the increase of deaths does not mean more people are using illegal drugs.
“We are seeing evidence there are less people using,” Polsky said. But the rise of fatality “speaks to the lethality” of the substances involved.
Heroin and fentanyl account for 90 percent of the overdose fatalities that occurred last year, according to the report released last week.
“Large increases in the number of heroin and fentanyl-related deaths were largely responsible for the overall rise in opioid-related deaths,” the report said.
Fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid responsible for about a third of total deaths in Southern Maryland, and more than half of overall deaths statewide.
Initially fentanyl was primarily mixed with heroin, Polsky said. Now fentanyl also shows up in counterfeit prescription pills.
Health officials said fentanyl is seen as the cause of many unintentional deaths, partly because people don’t know fentanyl is in what they are selling or buying.
St. Mary’s Health Officer Dr. Meena Brewster said the data revealed by the overdose report was an “unsurprised disappointment. This crisis has been raging on and probably will continue to rage on,” she said.
Brewster noted that although the total number of overdose fatalities in St. Mary’s actually decreased, the number of heroin and fentanyl-related deaths increased in the county from 2015 to 2016.
“We are continuing to see [an] opioid-related overdose increase” in the past couple of years with the trend shifting towards heroin and fentanyl-related overdoses, Brewster said. “Many of them are non-fatal.”
So far this year, the upward trend of fatal overdoses has showed little sign of being reversed.
As of Wednesday, out of 58 overdoses reported this year, eight were fatal, according to Joe Windsor, drug intelligence program coordinator at Calvert County Sheriff’s Office. Four deaths involved heroin and one died from a fentanyl-related overdose.
Eight out of nine overdose deaths in St. Mary’s so far this year involved fentanyl, according to data provided by Jennifer Stone, public information officer at the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office. The ninth death is still pending a toxicology report.
As of June 9, Charles County had 17 overdose deaths, six of which were opioid-related, said Diane Richardson, public information officer at the Charles County Sheriff’s Office. One death was related to prescription medication, and the rest are still waiting for medical examination.
“I know whenever there’s a spike, it’s an indicator of a community need,” said James Bridgers Jr., deputy health officer at the Charles County Health Department.
Noting the agency acknowledges the need, Bridgers said the health department is working in partnership with the sheriff’s office, La Plata police, the school board, county government and the hospital “as a united effort to provide as much information as possible” about treatment ser vices available at the health department.
Every Monday, the health department offers free Naloxone trainings from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. From Monday through Wednesday from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., the department offers walk-in services, according to the Charles County Health Department’s website.
To read the annual overdose report, go to sbha.health.mar yland. gov/OVERDOSE_PREVENTION/Documents/ Maryland%202016%20 Overdose%20Annual%20 report.pdf.
A rock dedicated to Jimmy Lee lies on a tree stump in a small memorial garden on Feb. 24 at Jude House. Lee died from an overdose in February after being released from Jude House.