Drug overdose deaths down slightly in region
But statewide, opioid fatality rate continues to soar over last year
The number of overdose deaths in Southern Maryland decreased slightly in the first quarter of this year, while the fatality rate continues to rise rapidly statewide, according to a report released Friday by the Maryland Department of Health.
Data from the report showed 16 people died from January to March in the tri-county area, two fewer than the same period last year. Nine of them are related to fentanyl.
Carfentanil, an opioid 100 times more potent than fentanyl, has also shown up in the region. The state medical examiner’s office said a carfentanil-linked death occurred on June 5 in St. Mary’s County.
In Charles, there was a carfentanil related case in late May that is still
under investigation, according to Diane Richardson, public information officer at the Charles County Sheriff’s Office.
Calvert has not seen a case linked to carfentanil as of Monday, according to Joe Windsor, drug intelligence program coordinator at the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office.
“In Southern Maryland, our number has decreased slightly,” Calvert Health Officer Dr. Laurence Polsky said. But “our goal is to dramatically decrease the numbers. … We realize we have a lot of work to do.”
In the first quarter, Calvert had two drug- and alcohol-related fatalities, three fewer than the same period in 2016.
The Calvert sheriff’s office reported as of Monday, the county had 14 fatal overdoses, half of 2016’s total number, according to Windsor. The sheriff’s office and the Maryland State Police handled 81 overdose cases as of Aug. 7.
Statewide, 550 overdose deaths occurred in the first three month, a 37 percent increase compared to the same period last year. Of all deaths, 372 of them are fentanyl-related.
“This crisis continues to escalate,” said Dr. Meena Brewster, St. Mary’s County’s health officer. “Fentanyl is becoming more and more of a key player” in the increase of fatality rate due to its lethality.
In March, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) declared the heroin, opioid and fentanyl crisis penetrating communities across Maryland a state of emergency. Hogan also announced that the state would spend $50 million over five years to fund prevention, recovery and enforcement efforts.
For fiscal year 2018 that started July 1, $22 million in state and federal funding includes the first $10 million from Hogan’s March announcement to fight the opioid crisis.
According to Friday’s report, St. Mary’s had four overdose deaths in the first three months.
For the first half of the year, 14 people in St. Mary’s died from heroin, fentanyl and opioid related deaths, not including cases handled by the Maryland State Police and emergency medical services, according to Capt. Eric Sweeney, commander of the vice and narcotics division at the St. Mary’s sheriff’s office.
Last year, St. Mary’s total number of overdose fatalities was 15.
Brewster said she doesn’t anticipate St. Mary’s to get a large amount of the $22 million considering the county’s relatively small size and that the county’s “numbers do look better on paper” than some other jurisdictions.
With the small amount of funding she anticipates, Brewster said the money will be used to increase access and address barriers to treatment.
Prevention will also be a big part of the funding focus, which includes preventing opioid misuse, preventing people from developing an addiction and preventing deaths, she said. The main strategy involved to prevent deaths is to increase access to naloxone, a life-saving drug that can reverse an overdose.
Charles County’s Health Officer Dr. Dianna Abney agreed.
“We don’t want to think of naloxone as a fix,” Abney said. But it is a way to prevent death and “give us an opportunity to get people into treatment.”
Thanks to a standing order issued by Dr. Howard Haft, deputy secretary for public health services with the state’s health department, anyone can go to a pharmacy and get naloxone without a prescription.
In the first quarter, Charles had 10 deaths. If the numbers continue to stay at the same rate, Abney said four quarters would add up to 40 deaths, which would mean an 11 percent decrease in overall overdose deaths this year.
In 2016, Charles County saw 45 overdose deaths. As of Monday, out of 172 overdose cases handled by the Charles County Sheriff’s Office, 22 of them were fatal, according to Richardson.
With all the efforts put in the county, Abney said she anticipates a greater decrease.
Charles County is working to increase the number of substance use disorder treatment providers and provide more recovery services that will help people stay in recovery, Abney said. The health department is also working to provide more education on substance-use disorder and decrease the stigma associated with it.
“The governor’s office has been doing everything they can to help out on the local level,” Polsky said. Calvert expects to get $100,000 for the first allocation of the grant coming in the next month, he said.
The money will be used to increase outreach to patients in the hospital and treatment facilities, explore alternative means to treat pain to minimize the use of opioids, improve access to treatment and coordinate more media campaigns to raise awareness, he said.
The Calvert health department has hired a nurse practitioner who will start in a month, Polsky said. The nurse will be based in Lusby, an area that has the highest number of overdose cases in the county.
“We continue to push the message that help is available,” Brewster said. “Treatment is effective. People do recover and get their life back. We need people to take the step to get the help they need.”
Residents can find treatment resources at MdDestinationRecovery.org, BeforeItsTooLateMD.org, or call the state crisis hotline at 1-800422-0009.