Heroin opioid meeting

Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford and members of the Inter-Agency Heroin and Opioid Coordinating Council discuss state intoxication fatality findings from the first quarter of 2019 during a quarterly meeting Tuesday at the Ocean Pines branch of the Worcester County Library.

(June 28, 2019) Two more people in Worcester County succumbed to opioid-related intoxication deaths in the first quarter of 2019 than the first three months of last year, according to findings from the Inter-agency Heroin and Opioid Coordinating Council.

Seven opioid-related deaths were reported from January to March this year as compared to the five for the first quarter last year, according to reports. 

The increase runs counter to the state numbers, which showed 515 opioid-related deaths in the first quarter of this year as compared to 601 opioid-related intoxications deaths from January to March 2018.

Overall, the number of drug- and alcohol-related deaths in the state dropped significantly as compared to the same time period the year before. The first quarter of 2018 saw 676 such deaths statewide as compared to 577 drug and alcohol-related deaths for the same period this year.

These findings are based on the “result of recent ingestion to any opioid, prescribed or illicit,” and the deaths were “classified as accidental or undetermined.” The 2018 and 2019 numbers are still considered preliminary, according to reports.

Members of the state’s Inter-Agency Heroin Opioid Coordinating Council discussed the results of the first quarter of 2019 Tuesday morning at the Ocean Pines branch of the Worcester County Public Library on Cathell Road. 

Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford led the council, which is comprised of state departments focusing on health, public safety, juvenile services, and education, according to a statement from the lieutenant governor’s office. The State Police, the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, the Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems, and the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention also contribute to the panel.

There was a 15 percent decrease in unintentional intoxication deaths and a 14.3 percent decrease in opioid-related deaths for the first quarter of 2019, according to the Opioid Operational Command Center.

“We do hope it’s the beginning of a trend,” Steven Schuh, executive director of the opioid command center, said. 

There were 188 heroin-related deaths reported for the first quarter of 2019, as compared to the 245 fatalities recorded from January through March 2018, according to preliminary data. The lowest reports were in 2017 with 291 reported heroin-related deaths for the first quarter.

Fran Phillips, deputy secretary for public health services for the Maryland Department of Health, said there was a spike in fentanyl-related deaths for the first quarter of 2018.

“You see the tremendous increase in fentanyl deaths in the last several years, but once again, you [also] see the decrease in this last quarter,” Phillips said.

There were 474 reported for the first quarter of 2019, as compared to the 517 fentanyl-related deaths recorded from January through March 2018, according to preliminary report findings. The lowest reports were in 2009 with five reported fentanyl-related deaths for the first quarter.

Phillips also said the number of fatalities related to “cocaine was a surprise” when combined with other opioids.

There were 165 reported cocaine-related deaths when combined with opioids for the first quarter of 2019, as compared to the 210 fatalities recorded from January through March 2018, according to preliminary data. The lowest reports were in 2011 with 19 reported deaths for the first quarter.

However, while Rutherford appeared pleased with the first quarter’s results, he said, “I want to make it very clear that while this news is encouraging, it is no time to pat ourselves on the back and think that our work is now done. It is far from done. I look at this as a step in the right direction, but it will take several more quarters of continuous decline to know for sure if we are making true progress.”

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