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What to Know About the Opioid Crisis in Maryland

Dillon McClernon

Authored by Dillon McClernon

The state of Maryland has been hit hard by the devastating opioid epidemic that has swept across the country. According to a report by the Maryland Department of Health, 90% of all intoxication fatalities in Maryland in 2020 were opioid-related. Opioid-related deaths include prescription opioids, heroin, and non-pharmaceutical fentanyl. These deaths were mostly recorded in counties like Havre De Grace, Owings Mills, Bel Air, and North Bethesda.

Maryland Opioid Epidemic By the Numbers

  • Opioid-related deaths increased by 20% between 2019 and 2020, following a 2% drop in 2019.
  • Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, was at the center of these deaths.
  • Fentanyl was involved in 2,342 of all opioid-related deaths in 2020.
  • The rising trend was also seen in prescription opioids, as overdose deaths sharply rose by 23% in 2020 compared with 2019.
  • Heroin accounted for 414 deaths in 2020, a 25% decrease from 517 in 2019.

Going by the numbers, fentanyl-related deaths have continued to increase, but heroin-related deaths have trended downwards. The decline is likely due to the availability of fentanyl, which is often mixed with or sold as heroin. In addition, according to American Addiction Centers, fentanyl is cheaper, stronger, and easier to obtain.


New Drug, Xylazine Compounds Opioid Overdose Crisis

Now, a new drug has come onto the scene, threatening to further compound the challenge that Maryland is facing. This new drug, known as xylazine, is a powerful synthetic substance and is being laced into heroin and the already dangerous fentanyl. Xylazine is an animal tranquilizer that is not meant for human consumption, and it is so incredibly potent that even a small amount can cause serious harm or death.

The full national scope of fatalities involving xylazine is still unknown. However, research shows xylazine-related overdose deaths have spread westward across the US, with the largest effect in the Northeast. Between 2015 and 2020, the percentage of all drug overdose deaths involving xylazine went from 2% to 26% in Pennsylvania. In 2021, the drug was linked to 19% of all drug fatalities in Maryland and 10% of deaths in Connecticut in 2020.

Despite its dangerous effects, dealers are now mixing xylazine with fentanyl to create an even more potent and deadly cocktail. This new development in the ongoing opioid crisis is especially concerning, as it can lead to even more overdose deaths.

Understanding the Opioid Epidemic

The opioid epidemic is one of modern America’s most problematic public health challenges. In its wake, it has left a devastating trail of addiction, overdoses, and other adverse effects. For every drug overdose that leads to death, there are many more nonfatal overdoses, each with its own economic, social, and emotional toll.

The opioid epidemic in Maryland and the Washington D.C. area doesn’t discriminate by age, race, gender, or location. It is a state-wide problem that is only getting worse with time. Sadly, statistics show that those who have had at least one overdose case will likely have another unless they get help.

The opioid epidemic began in the 1990s when pharmaceutical companies aggressively marketed opioids as safe and effective painkillers. This led to more prescriptions being written for opioids, which in turn led to more people becoming addicted to these powerful drugs.

These powerful drugs became increasingly popular over time as people came to rely on them for relief from chronic conditions like arthritis or cancer. However, as reliance on opioids grew, so did the risk of dependency and overdose.

By 2016, roughly 42,000 Americans had died from opioid overdoses, and more than 40% of these cases were due to prescription pills. In that year, Maryland had 1,468 overdose-related deaths.

Now, we’re dealing with the third wave arising from the significant increase in overdose death involving synthetic opioids, specifically those involving illegally made fentanyl.

The Impacts of Opioids

  • Opioids are powerful drugs and extremely addictive. Many people who take them for legitimate pain relief find it difficult to stop. As a result, they may turn to illegal sources when they can no longer obtain pills from a doctor.
  • People who misuse opioids are at risk of developing a drug addiction, which can lead to serious health consequences. These include organ damage, problems with mental health, and an increased risk of overdose.
  • Opioid users are also likely to experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit, which can be extremely uncomfortable and difficult to manage. In many cases, they’ll relapse and use again to avoid these withdrawal symptoms.
  • Overdose is another major concern for those who misuse opioids. And with the rise of xylazine, a more potent drug, the risks associated with opioids have increased. When people, especially young adults, buy these drugs from the streets, they have no idea what they’re taking or how strong it is. As a result, they’re more likely to overdose.
  • The opioid epidemic has also taken a toll on communities and families. It has strained healthcare resources and led to increases in crime. The financial cost of the crisis is estimated to be billions of dollars. The combined cost of dealing with opioid use disorder and fatal opioid overdose in Maryland was $29,559.6 million in 2017.
Teen Getting Help

Maryland’s Response to the Opioid Epidemic

To address the opioid epidemic, Maryland has implemented several initiatives and programs. One such program is the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, which tracks prescriptions for controlled substances. It was formed to support patients and healthcare providers in the safe and effective use of prescription drugs. The PDMP is a core component of strategies for reducing drug-related overdoses at the state level and in local jurisdictions.

The state has also passed the Maryland Heroin and Opioid Prevention Effort (MD HOPE) bill, which contains provisions to improve patient education and increase treatment services. HOPE expands Naloxone access to all Marylanders.

Furthermore, the state of Maryland also publicizes National Drug Take Back Day events where people can bring their unused or expired prescription drugs for disposal. The state has also implemented the Good Samaritan Law, which protects people who report an overdose from being prosecuted for minor drug crimes.

Help for Opioid Abuse

The opioid epidemic has ravaged communities nationwide, causing countless overdose deaths and exacerbating the current mental health crisis. If you or someone you love is struggling with opioid abuse, know that help is available. Treatment in an accredited medical center can help individuals stop using opioids by addressing underlying issues and providing support in the recovery process.

Moreover, many people who struggle with addiction may also be dealing with co-occurring mental health conditions or dual diagnosis. In this case, the patient will need a holistic treatment that concurrently addresses addiction and mental health. These treatments often involve medication, behavioral health therapy, mental health services, support, etc., and can help one achieve long-term sobriety.

Don’t hesitate to seek help if you’re struggling with addiction. Opioid abuse treatment centers can offer you the support and resources you need to recover. Most of them even accept health insurance coverage.

Authored by

Dillon McClernon

Dillon McClernon

Dillon currently serves as the Senior Director of Sales and Marketing at RCA. After his tenure as Chief Communications Officer and senior advisor to RCA, he opted for a full-time position at RCA where he could build a new team linking sales and marketing to directly impact RCA’s mission of saving 1 million lives.


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