But health officials say more needs to be done.
Annapolis, Md (KM) For the first half of this year, Maryland experienced a decline in drug and alcohol overdose deaths. The state Department of Health and the Opioid Operational Command Center say 1182 people died from overdose deaths between January and June, 2019, which is an 11% decline from the first six months of 2018 when 1332 people died from overdoses.
That’s good news, according to Steve Schuh, the Executive Director of the Opioid Operational Command Center. “However, it’s important to bear in mind that over a thousand of our friends, family members and our neighbors perished from opioid use disorder during that six-month period,” he says.
In 2017, Governor Larry Hogan declared a State of Emergency in response to the heroin, opioid and fentanyl crisis. Following that, the state developed a strategy to fight substance abuse through prevention education; treatment and recovery, ; and enforcement and public policy. . “And those program are really kicking in, and I think are starting to bear on the crisis and contributing to the turn down,” he says. “There’s a lot of really good work going on all over the state of Maryland, and in Frederick County.”
Schuh gave Frederick County some praise, noting that the county saw a 25% reduction in overdose deaths during the first six months of 2019. “I think that points to the tremendously great work that officials in Frederick County, both county level personnel as well as private sector personnel, are pursuing to bring an end to this terrible suffering,” he says.
But Schuh says fentanyl still remains a problem, even though deaths went down this year in that category. “90% of all opioid-related fatalities are related to fentanyl,” he says. “Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, a heroin-like substance, that is being mixed into everything that dealers sell, including heroin, cocaine and marijuana.”
“Any drug bought on the street today in Maryland is very likely to involve fentanyl, and could very well kill you. There’s nothing safe,” Schuh continues.
In Maryland from January to June, 2019, there were 962 fentanyl-related deaths, according to the state Department of Health. That’s a drop from 1043 during the same period last year. Frederick County saw 29 fentanyl-related deaths during the first half of this year, a drop from 42 during the same period in 2018.
Schuh says enforcement efforts will continue to try to bring the number of fatal overdoses down, particularly those involving fentanyl. “We are working to intercept fentanyl shipments at the border. Fentanyl usually comes in from China directly, or from China to Mexico and then into the United States,” he says. “We’re trying to intercept as much as we can and we’re having great success with that, and with breaking dealer networks and gangs.”
Drug courts have been set up to divert people away from drugs. The defendants in these courts have committed minor crimes to support a drug habit. They are put into treatment instead of being sent to jail to get them off narcotics.
Treatment has also been expended, Schuh says. “Everything from outpatient programs to residential-type programs; from one day to 28-day programs; and are also implementing crisis response systems and stabilization programs throughout the state so that people who want to recover and want to get into treatment have a place to go and someone to talk to,” he says.
If you are having a substance abuse problem, or know someone who struggling with drugs and alcohol, you can get help by calling 211 and pressing the number 1.
By Kevin McManus