The dire statistics may be surprising for a state that conjures up images of diverse cities, bucolic farms, lacrosse, eating crabs and the beautiful Chesapeake Bay. But alongside these more wholesome activities, Maryland has a drug epidemic that is eating it alive, much like the way those crabs scavenge at the bottom of the bay.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that Maryland ranks in the top five states with the highest rate of opioid-related overdose deaths. Since 1999, the death rate in Maryland has also consistently been above the national average. While Baltimore City is often in the news for this very reason, the drug epidemic is not contained there; other counties that top the list specifically for fentanyl-related deaths are Baltimore County, Prince George’s, Anne Arundel and Harford counties.
Fentanyl is implicated in an alarming number of fatal overdoses: as reported in the Patch, during the first half of 2018 the drug was implicated in more than 78 percent of fatal overdoses. It is more powerful than morphine, and often users don’t know they have consumed it as it is often used to cut other drugs due to how cheap it is to manufacture.
According to the Maryland Department of Health:
- Of all the intoxication deaths that occurred in Maryland in 2017, 88 percent were opioid-related, which includes deaths related to non-pharmaceutical fentanyl, prescription opioids and heroin.
- In 2015 there were 748 deaths from heroin, jumping up to almost double that amount with 1,212 in 2016.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan Signs Bills To Combat Drug Scourge
State agencies as well as agencies in the larger cities like Baltimore are utilizing a diverse mix of strategies to combat the drug epidemic. In 2018, Maryland’s Governor Larry Hogan signed bills and created initiatives to fight the seemingly unstoppable tide of drugs crashing into Maryland’s shore. These laws include:
- Overdose Data Reporting Act – The bill will allow EMS providers and law enforcement to share data about opioid overdose. This helps first responders to track information and then allocate the necessary resources, including administering naloxone (sold under the brand name “Narcan”) in specific regions if there is an especially potent batch of opioids.
- Controlled Dangerous Substances – Volume Dealers Act expands the volume dealer status to include fentanyl and drugs with similar effects. This will also allow for more effective prosecution of drug traffickers dealing in large quantities of controlled substances.
A Multi-Pronged and Multi-Level Approach
While state laws are an important part of the fight against the drug epidemic, a multi-pronged, multi-level approach is being utilized. On one end of the spectrum the strategy is to cut the drugs off at the root, by disrupting importation and distribution. On the other end of the spectrum there is the recognition that education, support and resources are needed to fight the battle.
In the fall of 2018, Maryland, Virginia and Delaware state police took down the leader of a major drug distribution ring. Drugs had been distributed into multiple northeastern states, including Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The perpetrator was identified as being the “largest illegal drug supplier” in the area. This was an extension of the 2015 task force’s recommendation to create a Maryland State Police Heroin Investigation Unit across multiple jurisdictions. The unit’s focus was to be on higher-level heroin and opioid distribution operations.
Stopping the flow of drugs is one part of the overall strategy, but helping those already in the throes of addiction or an overdose is another. Maryland’s Good Samaritan Law is in place to prevent overdose deaths. It encourages people who observe or experience an overdose caused by the use of drugs or alcohol to seek medical assistance without the fear of arrest or prosecution for:
- Possessing or using a controlled dangerous substance
- Possessing or using drug paraphernalia
- Providing alcohol to minors
Other Initiatives Across Maryland
The state’s “Before It’s Too Late” program is an effort to bring awareness to Maryland’s opioid epidemic and to mobilize resources for prevention, awareness and recovery. At the local level many counties are mobilizing and putting programs into action to combat the drug problem:
- Baltimore City/County is using a multi-level strategy as well. The first priority is saving lives with an acute response using naloxone, and getting it into the hands of first responders. Access to evidence-based medicine and further treatment is also key to the survival and recovery of those with drug addiction. Last is education about the disease of addiction and fighting the stigma that goes with the illness. Baltimore City has also created a Fentanyl Task Force to raise awareness about the rising dangers of heroin and cocaine laced with fentanyl.
- Anne Arundel County’s first responders have made fire stations into “Safe Stations,” where those seeking help with addiction can go to get assistance. Most recently, a 38-foot recreational vehicle containing medical personnel offering counseling, blood tests, naloxone and other resources will be stationed in the northern part of the county.
- Prince George’s County has multiple initiatives to educate and support county residents, i.e. the “Dare to Be You” program, naloxone outreach education, as well as annual alcohol and drugs public awareness campaigns.
- Washington County, in Western Maryland, offers the Sheriff’s Office Day Reporting Center which is an alternative to incarceration. This is a non-residential program designed to change offender’s thinking patterns and attitudes and to help improve job skills and job retention. Working with the Washington County Emergency Services and the Washington County Opioid Intervention Team, the Sheriff’s Office and other numerous community organizations partner to make it a success.
- Wicomico County’s Community Outreach Addiction Team (COAT) partners with the Sheriff’s Department, State’s Attorney’s office, and the Peninsula Regional Medical Center to connect those suffering from a substance use disorder to the resources they need. Peer support specialists in recovery provide support and guidance to others fighting a substance use disorder.
Fighting For Recovery At Every Level
If you are addicted to drugs and need help, please contact or call us today at (877) 609-3017, to speak to one of our knowledgeable and compassionate counselors. Fighting to recover on your own can feel overwhelming and scary, but we are here to help you navigate the road to recovery. We are standing by to talk to you at any time, and look forward to helping you heal.