Over­dose deaths out­pace all of 2016

NAACP dis­cus­sion deals with trends of opi­oid cri­sis in St. Mary’s

The Enterprise - - Front Page - By DANDAN ZOU dzou@somd­news.com

Last Thurs­day was In­ter­na­tional Over­dose Aware­ness Day, and it was an­other re­minder of the opi­oid cri­sis that con­tin­ues to worsen, killing nearly 100 Amer­i­cans ev­ery day.

Al­though data from the Mary­land Depart­ment of Health showed the num­ber of over­dose deaths in South­ern Mary­land de­creased slightly in the first quar­ter of this year, six-month num­bers from lo­cal sher­iff’s of­fices sug­gest this year’s num­bers to be about the same or higher, if the trend con­tin­ues.

In St. Mary’s, the fa­tal­ity rate re­lated to opi­oids so far has al­ready eclipsed that of the en­tire year of 2016 for all drugs, said Dr. Meena Brew­ster, St. Mary’s health of­fi­cer, at a NAACP meet­ing Thurs­day night at the South­ern Mary­land Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­ter.

Capt. Steven Hall from the St. Mary’s County Sher­iff’s Of­fice said the county has had 19 deaths re­lated to over­doses al­ready this year. Last year, St. Mary’s to­tal num­ber of over­dose fa­tal­i­ties re­lated to drugs and al­co­hol was 15.

An­other in­di­ca­tor of the wors­en­ing cri­sis is the in­creas­ing num­ber of emer­gency depart­ment vis­its made by county res­i­dents. In her pre­sen­ta­tion Thurs­day, Brew­ster said the num­ber of emer­gency room vis­its in­creased al­most 50 per­cent from 167 in 2015 to 246 in 2016.

And the up­ward trend is not show­ing any signs of slow­ing down. In the first seven months alone, St. Mary’s res­i­dents made 231 vis­its.

The bulk of peo­ple vis­it­ing emer­gency rooms are those be­tween the ages of 20 to 50, Brew­ster said. “It’s the work­ing class that’s been af­fected by this.”

In terms of racial break­down, whites ac­count for about 80 per­cents of all vis­its while African Amer­i­cans make up be­tween 10 to 15 per­cent. Brew­ster said the

per­cent­age break­down is fairly sim­i­lar to the county’s de­mo­graphic.

Jan­ice Walthour, pres­i­dent of the NAACP’s St. Mary’s chap­ter, asked the law en­force­ment of­fi­cials who are the peo­ple be­ing ar­rested re­lated to opi­oids.

“They are ev­ery­one,” Hall replied. “I’ve ar­rested peo­ple that I went to school with.”

Call­ing it “equal op­por­tu­nity death,” St. Mary’s State’s At­tor­ney Richard Fritz (R) said all races and eth­nic­i­ties are af­fected by the epi­demic.

Fritz said what he sees is that “everybody is be­ing equally killed. Everybody is be­ing equally ad­dicted. Everybody is be­ing equally dis­tribut­ing drugs.”

Health of­fi­cials have long at­trib­uted the ris­ing fa­tal­ity rate to the lethal­ity of the drugs.

The ma­jor rea­son be­hind over­dose deaths is drugs like fen­tanyl, which has emerged as the ma­jor fa­tal­ity fac­tor, Brew- ster said.

Fen­tanyl is much more po­tent than heroin, and a lot cheaper to man­u­fac­ture. Ac­cord­ing to what she learned from a U.S. Drug En­force­ment Agency pre­sen­ta­tion, Brew­ster said the man­u­fac­tur­ing cost for 1 kilo­gram of heroin is about $65,000, com­pared to $2,500 for the same amount of fen­tanyl.

A few years ago, Fritz said co­caine was a big prob­lem. What fol­lowed was the ar­rival of oxy­con­tin, and law en­force- ment started to see lots of false pre­scrip­tions and peo­ple coun­ter­feit­ing doc­tors’ names going into drug stores.

“Now what we are see­ing is that the med­i­cal com­mu­nity is tight­en­ing up on their pre­scrip­tions on giv­ing out oxy­con­tin, which they used to give out like candy,” Fritz said.

What’s fright­en­ing about the opi­oid cri­sis, he said, is peo­ple get­ting heroin mixed with fen­tanyl or car­fen­tanil with­out know­ing it and, as a re­sult, “they are drop­ping like flies.”

Car­fen­tanil, an opi­oid 100 times more po­tent than fen­tanyl, has al­ready shown up in the re­gion. Used as an­i­mal tran­quil­iz­ers for bears and ele­phants, car­fen­tanil looks like ta­ble salt and a mi­nus­cule amount — just a few grains — is enough to kill.

Look­ing back over his long ca­reer, Fritz called opi­oids “the most dev­as­tat­ing drug we’ve ever seen.”

Brew­ster said the key in deal­ing with the cri­sis is to keep peo­ple con­nected to the sys­tem.

“Re­hab may not work the first time, or the sec­ond time, or the third time,” but she em­pha­sized that treat­ment is ef­fec­tive and peo­ple do get their lives back.

Res­i­dents can find treat­ment re­sources at MdDesti­na­tionRe­cov­ery.org, Be­foreIt­sTooLateMD.org, or call the state cri­sis hot­line at 1-800422-0009. The lo­cal hot­line at Walden is 301-863-6661.

St. Mary’s State’s At­tor­ney Richard Fritz (R), left, speaks Thurs­day night at a NAACP meet­ing dis­cussing the opi­oid cri­sis at the South­ern Mary­land Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­ter while Dr. Meena Brew­ster, St. Mary’s health of­fi­cer, lis­tens. STAFF PHO­TOS BY DANDAN ZOU Alonzo Gaskin, left, asks a ques­tion while Char­lot­tis Wood­ley and Tony Lawrence look on Thurs­day night at a NAACP meet­ing dis­cussing the opi­oid cri­sis at the South­ern Mary­land Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­ter.

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