Travis Brown

Worcester County Health Department Public Information Officer Travis Brown

Wor. cocaine deaths drop, but opioid, Fentanyl deaths saw slight uptick for 2019

(Jan. 10, 2020) The number of drug overdoses in Worcester County in 2019 remained level as compared to the previous year, and the county joins the state in seeing an overall decrease in deaths, according to data released by the Maryland Health Department. While these numbers are promising, county health officials and advocates advise the region must remain vigilant in its fight against the opioid epidemic.

“While statewide overdose fatalities in the third quarter of 2019 did not decline as sharply as they did in the second quarter of 2019, Maryland’s overdose fatalities remain almost five percent lower than they were in the same period of 2018,” said Steven Schuh, executive director of the Opioid Operational Command Center.

Worcester County saw 16 drug and alcohol intoxication deaths in 2019, mirroring 2018’s data and representing a significant drop in comparison to the all-time high in 2016 of 28 deaths.

Another promising sign was the disappearance of cocaine deaths, from four in 2018 and zero last year.

Where the county continues to struggle is in its battle against opioids and Fentanyl.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 80-100 times stronger than morphine and 50 times stronger than heroin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fentanyl and opioid overdoses were the only areas that Worcester saw an uptick in deaths, with Fentanyl claiming 11 lives in 2019, one up from 10 in 2018, and opioids claiming 12 lives last year in comparison to 10 two years ago.

“Opioids, especially Fentanyl, continue to be a contributing factor to overdose deaths,” said Travis Brown, public information officer for Worcester County Health Department. “Fentanyl is associated with a high risk of fatal overdose due to its potency.”

In Maryland, Fentanyl–related deaths increased dramatically from 58 in 2013, to 1,594 in 2017.

What perpetuates these deaths is that Fentanyl is often mixed, or cut, with other drugs, often unbeknownst to buyers.

“Fentanyl was a game changer,” said Jackie Ball, vice president of Worcester County Warriors Against Opiate Addiction in Berlin. “The supply of heroin used to be just heroin cut with whatever they used to cut it with. Now, at least 80 percent of the supply is cut with Fentanyl.”

However, one of the largest obstacles in fighting the epidemic is stigma, which prevents victims from seeking help.

“Stigma has been huge,” Ball said. “Years ago, we were absolutely embarrassed to say anything about what our own children were going through.

Brown agreed, and said when the epidemic first emerged in Worcester County several years ago, the public mentality was one of victim blaming and shaming.

That has changed recently, and people are more compassionate and empathetic to substance abuse victims, as is evidenced by the increase in various projects and resources available to addicts in the county, Brown and Ball said.

“[The health department] runs several prevention and opioid awareness campaigns every year. We promote knowledge about the State of Maryland’s Good Samaritan Law, dealing with Addiction in the Workplace, the importance of Naloxone/Narcan and the dangers of substance abuse. The Prevention unit uses public service announcements, local television, print and radio, as well as social media to broadcast these messages. We also distribute medication lockboxes to local pharmacies, healthcare providers and residents,” Brown said.

The health department also offers free Naloxone training and kits, helps lead the Opioid Intervention Team and employs several peer support recovery specialists — people who have suffered from substance abuse, but have made their own recovery journey.

The Worcester County Warriors, which began in April 2016, does its own support and education programs and helps connect substance abuse victims to recovery and medical resources.

One of the county’s greatest achievements, both Brown and Ball said, was the launch of a Safe Station in Ocean City on Sept. 1.

“Through that partnership with Ocean City Volunteer Fire Department, the Health Department is providing open access to treatment (24/7) at the 15th St. Fire Station in Ocean City.

A person seeking drug addiction treatment may walk into the station at any time and will receive a medical evaluation and will be transported to a hospital if they require further medical assistance.

If the patient does not have an outstanding medical issue, a member of the Worcester County’s peer support group will come speak with the patient and develop a program that fits the his or her needs.

Ball said the station was especially important as it provided a secure shelter for patients as they wait for a crisis facility bed to open, which can take quite some time.

In addition to the Safe Station, through Opioid Operation Command Center funding, the Tri-County health departments (Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester) were able to partner with Hudson Health and open a 24/7, eight-bed Life Crisis Center in Salisbury on Dec. 1, 2019.

Although the county has taken the right steps, Brown and Ball said more work must be done.

“We’re getting there with recovery, but opiate addiction is very, very difficult to deal with. It takes a very long time,” Ball said. “The thing we still need to work on is insurance, how does it get paid for? Can a person get a bed right away? How long can you be in recovery? Sometimes it [recover] takes a lot longer than 30 days … there’s just a lot more that we can still do to help people.”

If you or a loved one is suffering from substance abuse, call the Tri-County Life Crisis Center at 410-749-4357, substance abuse hotline 211, visit the resort Safe Station on 15th Street, or call the Worcester County Warriors at 443-880-5943.

For resources visit the county health department website: https://www.worcesterhealth.org or the Worcester County Warriors: https://wocowarriors.org.

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