State’s attorney putting out the word: Opioids kill
Deaths from heroin, prescription, related drugs spike in Charles County, across state, country
The Charles County State’s Attorney’s Office is hoping to combat opioid addiction in the region with a campaign to raise awareness of support for drug treatment.
“We’re just trying to get the word out,” said Tony Covington, state’s attorney for Charles County. “We decided that we had to start educating people.”
The state’s attorney office has purchased a billboard advertisement on Crain Highway/U.S. 301 that northbound motorists can see after leaving Charles County and entering Brandywine. The billboard — with the message “Opioids Kill” — also provides a phone number to call for help.
In addition, Covington said he has purchased space for public service announcements at the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs Regency Furniture Stadium during home games, the video of which can also be seen on the “State’s Attorney for Charles County” Facebook page.
“We’re going to keep doing this, we’re going to keep trying to educate folks,” Covington said. “It’s impacting people’s lives and families out there. It really is an epidemic.”
Opioids are a class of drug which include illegal
drugs, such as heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and prescription painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine and others, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse website.
Covington said that over the past 20 years, he has seen heroin and opioid usage explode in Charles County.
“Back in ‘93, when I came here [to Charles County] as a prosecutor, we never saw heroin,” Covington said. “That all changed a few years back, and in the law enforcement community, we really started seeing it.”
Opioid drug use and addiction is a national problem, with data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing the number of overdose deaths from opioids nearly tripling between the years 2002 and 2015. Deaths from heroin have increased from slightly over 2,000 to nearly 14,000 during the same period — a 6.2-fold increase.
In Maryland, the number of opioid-related deaths has more than tripled since 2010, according to a June 2017 report by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, from 504 to 1,856.
In Charles County, the number of deaths from heroin, oxycodone, methadone, fentanyl and other prescription opioids increased from 13 in 2010 to 55 in 2016, according to the report.
“This is an epidemic; this is a local, state and national health crisis,” Covington said.
The causes of opioid addiction vary, Covington said. Sometimes children become hooked after stealing their parents’ prescription medication, other people are prescribed medication and become addicted.
“Then, once you have a habit, it gets very expensive very quickly,” Covington said.
Addiction to opioid pills can easily lead to heroin addiction for two reasons, Covington said: cost and potency.
“One: economics; heroin is cheaper. And two, folks who’ve been on pills for a while can’t get the same high after a while,” Covington said.
Heroin and other opioids target the pleasure receptors of the brain, and over time, users develop a tolerance, often leading them to seek out higher and more frequent doses, according to NIDA.
Heroin also suppresses breathing, which is one of the major causes of death during an overdose, according to NIDA.
“With heroin use, you always have overdoses, because heroin is not controlled, it’s cut, supplemented with all sorts of stuff: rat poison, flour, anything white to stretch it out,” Covington said.
The drug naloxone has been shown to be able to safely prevent and reverse opioid overdoses, according to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which provides training in
naloxone administration through the state’s Overdose Response Program. Emergency personnel, including fire, EMT and police, have been trained in administering naloxone. As of June 1, anyone can now get naloxone from a Maryland pharmacy without a prescription.
The Charles County Sheriff’s Office reported that in 2016, officers deployed naloxone 61 times. That number is likely to be higher for 2017.
“So far this year, we’ve had 46 deployments; that’s as of Tuesday [June 27],” said CCSO spokeswoman Diane Richardson. “Each one has resulted in a save.”
There’s no easy answer to the opioid epidemic, Covington said. In-house treatment is expensive and not always readily available. Even those who may want to quit may not be able to find the help they need in time, and sudden withdrawal from opioid addiction is accompanied by cramping, nausea, vomiting, insomnia and a host of other symptoms.
“The symptoms alone are almost deadly enough, from withdrawal, that’s why when somebody’s withdrawing, they really should do it in a medical setting,” Covington said.
Covington said it’s important for those struggling with opioid addiction to seek help. For more information, call 301-6096645.