Maryland Opioid Deaths Skyrocket, Driven by Fentanyl and Heroin

The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has released the 2016 Drug and Alcohol Related Intoxication Deaths and the results show that there has been a 66 percent increase in deaths from 2015, with a total of 2,089 people total dying from opioid overdoses in 2016. This is the largest single-year increase recorded in Maryland. It is reported that 89 percent of those deaths are attributed to the illegal opioids heroin and fentanyl (a cheap and powerful drug, typically mixed into heroin without the knowledge of the user), and carfentanil, which is even deadlier than fentanyl.

Dennis R. Schrader, Secretary of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, states that the “overdose crisis in Maryland is driven by a number of factors” and the department is “committed to employing numerous approaches to reverse this grim tide”. Health and Mental Hygiene is committed to working with federal, state, and local partners to reduce the number of overdoses. With the help of Governor Larry Hogan, the department has implemented eight major initiatives to combat the opioid overdose epidemic:

  1. Reimbursement for federally funded funded residential substance use treatment, starting July 1.
  2. Maryland Medicaid program also is working to reduce opioid misuse, dependence, overdose, and death
  3. Medicaid implemented a payment policy for community-based Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT)
  4. Maryland has expanded access to naloxone, a life-saving drug that reverses opioid drug overdoses.
  5. The Maryland Good Samaritan Law, which provides protection from arrest and prosecution for certain crimes from which people are assisting in an overdose situation are immune.
  6. Health and Mental Hygiene continues to provide guidance for its prescribers in efforts to help patients chronic pain without resorting to prescription opioids, due to the fact that opioid addiction has its roots in prescribed medication.
  7. Employing Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT), to increase the early identification of those at risk. SBIRT is an evidence based tool designed to identify individuals who have to potential for substance abuse to provide medical intervention.
  8. The department has been working to intervene after Marylanders survive an overdose. The Overdose Survivors Outreach Program connects overdose survivors in hospital emergency departments with community peer recovery specialists, who assist them in enrolling in substance-use disorder treatment and obtaining support services.

“With fentanyl deaths more than tripling in the course of a year with no signs of decreasing it is time for new and innovative approaches… Unless we really embrace a new public health approach in Maryland it’s hard for me to imagine overdose deaths decreasing in the near future.”

— Kaitlyn Boecker, policy coordinator for the Maryland Drug Policy Alliance

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