Md. Health Officials Say Efforts Are Being Made To Fight the Opioid Crisis

This follows a big increase in overdose deaths in 2016.

The statistics released last week showing more than 2,000 overdoses deaths in Maryland in 2016 are very sobering. But officials with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene says they are doing something about this crisis. “Maryland is increasing access to treatment,” says Chris Garrett, a spokesman for DHMH.

In 2016, the Department says 2,089 people died in Maryland from overdose deaths. That’s a 66% increase from 2015, which  is the largest single-year jump in drug and alcohol-related deaths recorded in Maryland. The number of intoxication deaths tripled since 2010, says DHMH.

The increase in fatal overdoses was most prominent in citizens age 55 and older. The number in that age group increased five-fold between 2010 and 2016 from 86 to 424. 89% of all intoxication deaths which occurred in Maryland in 2016 were opioid-related, and that includes heroin, prescription opioids and fentanyl, says DHMH.

The Department also says deaths from the use of Carfentanil,  which is even deadlier than fentanyl, are starting to contribute to the fatal overdose count.

Despite these grim statistics, Garrett says DHMH is taking action to prevent these deaths. Garrett says the state’s Medicaid program received a waiver so that the funds could be used for treatment of substance abuse. “Now with that waiver in place, starting July 1st, Maryland will significantly expand treatment at residential facilities. So people will be able to have access to treatment that they had not been able to have  before  in recent history,” he says.

Garrett also says a few months ago, the Governor declared a state of emergency to bring the opioid epidemic to the public’s attention. “He also formed an opioid operational command center to cut the red tape that been in place between state and local agencies,” he said.

In addition, Garrett says naloxone has been very effective in reversing the affects of drug overdoses. “Synthetic opioids like fentanly and carfentanil, which are both significantly more deadly than already deadly heroin, you need more than one dose in order to reverse overdoses related to those drugs,” he said.

Because many persons who are addicted opioids were first introduced to these medications through a prescription from  their doctors or health care provider, DHMH says the Maryland Medicare program working to reduce opioid misuse, dependence and death through all eight of its HealthChoice Managed Care Organizations. “The State Health Department continues to provide guidance to prescribers in efforts to help them  manage their patients’ chronic pain without resorting to prescription opioids,” says Garrett.

“We have the Maryland Good Samaritan Law that provides protection from arrest for certain crimes, and expands charges from which people assisting in an emergency overdose situation, such as administering naloxone, would be immune from prosecution,” Garrett says.

Marylanders who have substance abuse problems should go on to, or for information on where they can get help. They can also call 1-800-422-0009.


By Kevin McManus