State’s at­tor­ney putting out the word: Opi­oids kill

Deaths from heroin, pre­scrip­tion, re­lated drugs spike in Charles County, across state, coun­try

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU jan­fen­son-comeau@somd­news.com

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.

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