CHEVERLY — On July 26, the Hogan Administration released a statement detailing its fight against the rise in opioid-related deaths in Maryland and the Maryland Department of Health released its Unintentional Drug And Alcohol-Related Intoxication Death Report for the entirety of 2017 and the first quarter of 2018 which shows that overdose deaths in Prince George’s County have been increasing steadily over the past 10 years.
The report shows that the number of heroin-related deaths in the state has begun to decrease, but fentanyl deaths are at an all-time high.
The increase in fentanyl overdoses comes from the increase of fentanyl in the drug marketplace and the extreme potency of it, said Howard Haft, deputy secretary of public health services for the Maryland Department of Health.
“Fentanyl is a very potent opioid,” he said. “It is 50 to 100 percent more potent than morphine. It is very easily attainable and less expensive than heroin or other drugs.”
A major aspect of the problem is fentanyl being mixed with other drugs in the marketplace, Haft said.
“It’s a perfect storm,” Haft said. “People get exposed to a new drug mixed with heroin or cocaine which makes it more potent. If the drug dealer does not mix the drugs properly, a sudden death and severe overdose can occur.”
Ron Bates, program chief of behavioral health and the Prince George’s County Health Department, has seen fentanyl show up in the county most recently as a manufactured drug on the streets.
“Like PCP or other illegal drugs, people figured out how to formulate it and get it into the illegal drug supply,” Bates said. “When that happened, more people became addicted and it was easier to get.”
Based on the data from the Maryland Health Department’s report, total opioid intoxication deaths have been on a steady upward trend in Prince George’s County since 2010 where there was 27 total. The number increased to 45 in 2015. The following year there was a major jump in the death toll to 106 people, and in 2017 it continued to rise to 124 deaths. For the first three months of 2018, there were already 18 deaths.
Prince George’s County saw a small decrease in heroin overdoses in 2017 with a small decrease from 67 to 52. Fentanyl was a different story. The county started to see a trend in 2013 with six people dying of a fentanyl overdose.
In 2016, we had 58 and in 2017 we had 103. Through March of this year, there were already 15 deaths.
Donna Perkins, an epidemiologist with the Prince George’s Health Department’s Assessment and Planning Department said the state data can be skewed because people from neighboring areas may come to be treated here and be counted as part of our county if they die.
“We were affected like everyone else in 2017 with fentanyl use,” she said. “The health department kept a close eye on the data. Our mission is to help keep the public safe and know what’s happening. For 2018 the data seems good. We might see a bit of a decrease. 2017 seemed to be the peak.”
However positive the outlook may be on future trends, the 2017 Opioid Overdose Report by the Prince George’s County Health Department also shows an increase in overdoses between 2016 and 2017 and the data in each report only shows those that were actually accounted for.
The county has two clinics that specifically treat opioid addiction through the administration of methadone.
One of them is We Care Health Services, Inc., in Laurel. The privately owned clinic has doctors and nurses on site who administer the methadone treatment, and patients pay through either state insurance or cash. The clinic receives calls from people needing treatment every day and their stay at the clinic can be long or short term.
Prince George’s County Health Department-Northern Region Addiction Services is a public clinic that deals with opioid addiction through medication-assisted treatment which includes methadone. They also provide outpatient treatment as well as individual and group counseling.
“Right now, we have over 100 individuals being treated in our medical assistance program,” Bates said. “We have another 100 in for outpatient counseling.”
There are so few opioid clinics in the county because there has not had the level of a heroin epidemic that other counties have had, Bates said. People who run a private clinic look at whether there would be enough clients for it to be viable and don’t feel there would be enough profit to operate here.
“A private program is profitable,” he said. “Most of the overdoses are occurring in Baltimore County and City and in Anne Arundel County where they have more private programs.”
On a state level, heroin death had decreased from 2016 to 2017, but fentanyl overdoses increased by 475 people, according to the Maryland Health Department’s report. Further, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that Maryland’s opioid use has increased 58.9 percent between 2015 and 2016.
The issue was placed at the forefront of debate when gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous released a stben jealouatement on July 24 calling on the Hogan Administration to release the fatal overdose statistics and claiming that the state has been behind in taking care of the opioid crisis.
“Maryland has been behind the ball in combating the opioid epidemic, starting with the Hogan Administration’s delay in declaring a state of emergency,” Jealous said. “There are scientifically-backed, common-sense measures we could be taking right now to save lives and it's time for the governor to become personally involved in making sure we start treating this crisis like the public health emergency it is.”
However, the Hogan Administration said that these “unfounded accusations” have nothing to do with the release of their reports.
“New data was added to the 2017 report to make it more comprehensive, which takes additional time to compile and confirm,” said Amelia Chassé, communications director for the Office of the Governor. “The Maryland Department of Health continuously modifies the report as additional substances and data sets emerge, to provide a complete overview of the heroin and opioid epidemic.”
According to the governor’s statement, funding to fight the opioid epidemic includes $40 million in new funding over the next year, which was announced in June. Additionally, the state was awarded a $1,975,085 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to provide reemployment services for those impacted.
The state plan includes an expansion of treatment and recovery services where 15 hospitals in Maryland and six detention centers will offer screening, brief intervention and referral treatment to patients in emergency departments.
Another aspect of the state’s initiative is prevention and education, which Prince George’s County is very involved in.
Starting in 2015, the county Health Department has been involved in the community by providing training with kits for naloxone, a nasal spray used to reverse the effects of opioid-only overdose, to community members who may know someone involved with drugs or are in a setting where they can help.
“Naloxone training helps a person recognize the signs and symptoms,” said Bates. “We’ve trained over 100 individuals and gave the training kit to 200 households. We will continue into the current fiscal year.”
The county Health Department has been involved with other forms of community outreach where they tracked 911 calls from overdoses and went to the households to provide support, education and naloxone training. Their education campaign involved giving treatment information in high traffic areas to create public awareness.
- opioidrelated deaths
- Hogan Administration
- Maryland Department of Health
- Unintentional Drug And AlcoholRelated Intoxication Death Report
- Prince George’s County
- Prince George’s County Health Department
- 2017 Opioid Overdose Report
- We Care Health Services, Inc
- Prince George’s County Health DepartmentNorthern Region Addiction Services
- Ben Jealous
- Naloxone training
- Jessica Ricks