Drug over­dose deaths reach record high statewide

More than 2,000 Mary­lan­ders died from drug and al­co­hol over­dose in 2016

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By DANDAN ZOU dzou@somd­news.com

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.

STAFF PHOTO BY DANDAN ZOU

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.

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