BALTIMORE COUNTY, MD — The rate of fatal drug and alcohol overdoses in the state continues at an epidemic pace — especially for users of heroin, fentanyl and the even more lethal carfentanyl — say state officials, who begged users to get into treatment before it’s too late. The Maryland Department of Health released data for fatal overdoses for the first quarter of 2017, and the numbers show that opioid-related overdose deaths continue to skyrocket in the state.
From January to March 2017, there were 550 drug and alcohol overdose-related deaths in Maryland, including 372 fentanyl-related deaths, health officials said. During the same three-month period in 2016, 401 Marylanders died from an overdose.
“Fentanyl and synthetic drugs continue to claim the lives of Marylanders, many of whom are unknowingly consuming them,” said Health Secretary Dennis Schrader in a news release. “We implore Marylanders who are grappling with substance use disorder and are taking illicit substances to seek treatment immediately.”
Baltimore County saw the largest increase in drug-related deaths, where 176 people died in the first quarter of 2017, compared to 113 people in the first quarter of 2016.
The new quarterly data shows fentanyl, an additive that is often combined with other opioids, continues to increase the number of overdose deaths. Fentanyl and a related additive called carfentanil are 50 and 100 times more potent than heroin, health officials said.
“The number of Marylanders impacted by this crisis continues to drive our resolve to manage this epidemic as a statewide emergency,” Clay Stamp, executive director of the state’s Opioid Operational Command Center, said in a statement. “In order for us to be successful, we must be united in this fight and steadfast in our commitment to partner with others in efforts to prevent, protect, and treat those in need.”
On July 1, 2017, three new initiatives to further combat the opioid epidemic went into effect. First, the Maryland Medicaid policies reforming the opioid-prescribing process went into effect. This new police requires prior authorization for all high-dose and long-acting opioids issued to Maryland Medicaid recipients.
The Prescription Drug Monitoring Program went into effect, which allows providers and pharmacists access to their patients’ history of such prescribed controlled dangerous substances as prescribed opioids. Prescribers are required, with some exceptions, to query and review their patient’s PDMP data prior to prescribing an opioid or benzodiazepine and at least every 90 days thereafter, as long as the course of treatment continues to include prescribing an opioid or benzodiazepine.
Maryland Medicaid also began to reimbursement for federally funded residential substance use treatment. Maryland was the third state in the nation to be granted a waiver from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to provide treatment with federal Medicaid dollars.
Where to Get Help in Maryland
Maryland residents who need help finding substance abuse treatment resources should visit the Department of Health website for links to substance abuse treatment facilities. Or call the Maryland Crisis Hotline, which provides 24/7 support, at 1-800-422-0009.
If you know of someone who could use treatment for substance abuse, treatment facilities can be located by location and program characteristics online.
Signs of Overdose:
Person is not responsive.Fingertips or lips turn blue or grey.Breathing is slow, shallow or has stopped.Person is gurgling or making snoring noises.
What can you do if you see an opioid overdose?
Call 911.If you have naloxone, give the person naloxone and perform rescue breathing.If no response after 2-3 minutes, give a second dose of naloxone.Do not leave the person alone. Help will arrive.If the person starts to breathe or becomes more alert, lay the person in the recovery position; put the person slightly on the left side so that their body is supported by a bent knee with their face turned to the side and bottom arm reaching out to stabilize the position.
Remember the Good Samaritan Law – save a life!
If you provide help or assist a person experiencing a medical emergency due to alcohol or drugs, you are criminally IMMUNE from being charged, arrested and prosecuted from certain crimes. (Ann. Code Md. CR §1-210)The police and the courts believe that saving a life is more important than a charge or an arrest.
How can I lower my risk of overdose?
Carry naloxone with you at all times and inform others where it is.If you haven’t used in a while, start slowly. You are at a high risk for overdose after leaving jail, prison or the hospital or after coming out of treatment.Avoid mixing substances.Be aware that drugs vary widely in purity and strength.Don’t use alone. If you must use alone, let people know where you are, and never the lock the door.Check up on each other.Seek treatment.
»Photo of heroin powder from the Drug Enforcement Administration