International Overdose Awareness Day shines light on an epidemic
Last Friday, Aug. 31, marked International Overdose Awareness Day.
Events like Overdose Awareness Day provide an opportunity to stop, remember and seek a way forward.
Established in 2001 in Melbourne, Australia, the aim of the commemoration is two-fold. First, the day is a chance to remember loved ones lost to overdose death. It is also a chance to raise awareness of overdose death and a call to action to prevent such tragedies from occurring.
The day marks the start of National Recover y Month, which seeks to raise awareness of substance abuse, lessen stigma and provide resources for recovery.
“International Overdose Awareness Day is a global event which highlights the impact of overdose and the stigma that overshadows drug-related deaths,” Maryland Department of Health Secretary Robert R. Neall said in a statement.
He continued, “Maryland has made strong inroads in assisting those struggling with substance use disorders by expanding access to treatment and recovery services, but there is still more work to be done. If you or a family member are struggling with an addiction, help is available 24/7 through our state’s crisis hotline — call 211, press 1.”
Here in Maryland and across the country, we continue to grapple with an opioid epidemic that claims an increasing number of lives each year.
Earlier this year, my family suffered such a loss. The toll that overdose death takes on a family is devastating and life-long.
In 2017, there were 2,282 drug and alcohol-related intoxication deaths in the state, according to a report released in July by the Maryland Department of Health. Of that number, 2,009 of those deaths were related to opioid use.
Deaths related to powerful opioid fentanyl have continued to climb — from 1,119 in 2016 to 1,594 in 2017.
Heroin and prescription drugrelated deaths dipped slightly between 2016 and 2017.
Cocaine-related deaths increased from 464 in 2016 to 691 in 2017, likely due to an increase in cases of fentanyl being mixed with cocaine. Of the cocaine-related deaths that occurred last year, two-thirds also involved fentanyl.
Fentanyl is also being combined with heroin, causing a spike in overdose deaths last year and the first quarter of 2018.
Deaths related to prescription drug abuse remained relatively the same between 2016 and 2017 — from 418 to 413. Prescription drugrelated deaths in the first quarter of 2018 were at 104.
Preliminary data collected in the first three months of 2018 show 653 unintentional drug and alcohol intoxication deaths in Maryland. Of these, 579 were opioid related; 500 of the deaths involved fentanyl. My deceased family member is among this number.
“While Maryland is starting to see a decline in heroin-related deaths, fentanyl-related deaths continue to rise in staggering numbers,” said Maryland Department of Health Secretary Robert R. Neall.
He added, “In the first three months of 2018 alone, we’ve seen 500 fentanyl-related deaths. We’re asking those with a substance use disorder to immediately seek treatment and for more individuals to learn how to use and carry naloxone.” To that end, across the state, jurisdictions are holding naloxone trainings — offering expanded access to the drug that can reverse an opioid overdose.
As of June 1, 2017, the state Department of Health issued an order allow pharmacies and hospitals to issue naloxone to anyone who may need it — whether they are at risk of an overdose or know someone who may be.
Previously, naloxone could only be given to persons trained through the Overdose Response Program. The new 2017 order makes the lifesaving drug available to anyone, regardless of training.
For more information, including access to a crisis hotline, treatment resources, counseling, information and more, visit beforeitstoolate. maryland.gov or call 211 and press option 1.