Opioid Crisis Hits Maryland Roadways

The I-70/I-81 corridor is known as “Heroin Highway.”

Towson, Md. (AAA Mid-Atlantic) – Opioid-related overdose deaths jumped to 1,185 in Maryland during the first half of 2018, a nearly 15 percent spike over the same period in 2017, recently released preliminary data from the Maryland Department of Health reveal. That’s more tragic news for a state reeling from 2,009 opioid-related deaths in 2017, an eight percent increase from 2016, and where the “corridor along Interstates 70 and 81” in its westernmost region is known as “Heroin Highway.”

The I-70/I-81 corridor is the route most frequently traveled by users trying to score synthetic opioids, including Carfentinal, a drug used as an elephant tranquilizer. Multiple efforts are underway to combat the overdose crisis in Maryland. In January 2018, eight states, including Maryland and Virginia, issued statewide emergency declarations to address the opioid epidemic, reports the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO).

The Maryland Department of State Police is continuing its efforts aimed at reducing the flow of heroin into Maryland and combatting drugged driving on Maryland’s roadways.

Statewide, first responders and “non-paramedic first responders,” including the Maryland State Police troopers “assigned to patrol duties,” are trained how to administer the overdose prevention substance, Naloxone, also known as Narcan® and Evzio®. Naloxone is a prescription medication that can safely reverse an opioid overdose according to the Maryland Department of Health. The troopers carry vials of Narcan on their gun belts, “The Maryland State Police was one of the first state police agencies in the country to establish this type of program and equip all patrol troopers with Naloxone,” notes the Department’s 2015 Annual Report. To prevent overdose deaths, rescuers can deploy the medication as a shot or intranasal spray.

In addition to Maryland State Police, nearly 20 other law enforcement agencies in Maryland are also deploying Narcan in overdose emergency situations. Since 2015, the Baltimore City Health Department (BCHD) has “trained more than 25,000 people,” including the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) Police, “on the use of Naloxone,” which has, in turn, “saved more than 1,000 lives,” the BCHD says.

In 2015, Maryland State Troopers administered Naloxone 26 times and in 2017 the medication was administered 154 times, a nearly 500 percent increase. State Police continue to administer Naloxone including on February 2, 2018, when Maryland State Troopers on routine patrol administered Narcan and saved the life of a driver who reportedly suffered a heroin overdose while operating his vehicle in the middle of the road in Cecil County.

Then again on April 26, 2018, Maryland State Police responded to a crash in Anne Arundel County on Interstate 97 near Route 50, involving a driver found unconscious behind the wheel. Emergency responders reportedly administered “multiple dosages of Naloxone” to revive the driver, who was rushed to the hospital and subsequently “arrested on suspicion of driving while impaired by a controlled dangerous substance.”

“As opioid-related deaths, and especially as fentanyl-related deaths increase at ‘an alarming pace’ in Maryland, in the words of state public health officials, a growing body of evidence suggests driving under the influence of drugs, including opioids, is becoming an increasing threat to motorists on the road,” said Ragina Cooper Averella, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “Police are encountering more drivers blacked-out behind the wheel from overdoses. As some states witnessed a sevenfold increase in fatal crashes linked to opioids over the last 20 years, the Maryland State Police, and other law enforcement agencies in the state, are the ‘tip of the spear’ in combatting the deathly scourge on Maryland roadways.”

On April 22, 2018, a driver suspected of overdosing on opioids was involved in a fatal crash in Arnold, Maryland, that killed a 12-year-old seventh grade student who was walking on a sidewalk with his mother and brother. In fact, an overwhelming majority of drivers, nearly 91 percent, perceive people driving after using illegal drugs to be either a very serious threat, or a somewhat serious threat to their personal safety, notes the Traffic Safety Culture Index released in 2018 by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Nationwide, the “prevalence of prescription opioids detected in fatally injured drivers has increased in the past two decades,” according to research published in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH). The researchers at Columbia University examined fatal crash data and toxicological tests for drivers fatally injured in six states. They found: “the prevalence of prescription opioids detected in fatally injured drivers increased from 1.0% in 1995 to 7.2% in 2015.” They conclude: “the need to assess the effect of increased prescription opioid use on traffic safety is urgent.”

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) reports, “Opioids can cause drowsiness and can impair cognitive function, both of which can have obvious effects on driving.” In 2016, 44 percent of fatally-injured drivers with known results, tested positive for drugs, an increase of 28 percent from 10 years prior.

The GHSA study also reveals “16 percent” of fatally injured of drivers with known results, “tested positive for opioids.” Furthermore, four percent of these drivers “tested positive for both marijuana and opioids.”