Chesapeake College's Big Purple Day unites Mid-Shore

From left, Talbot County Sheriff Joe Gamble, Lucie Hughes of Tidewater Rotary, Caroline County Sheriff Randy Bounds, Caroline Goes Purple Project Manager Jennifer Farina, Kent County Sheriff John Price, Chestertown Rotary Club member Andrew Meehan, Queen Anne’s Sheriff Gary Hofmann, Queen Anne’s County Chamber of Commerce President Linda Friday, Dorchester Sheriff James Phillips and Dorchester Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Bill Christopher unite for Big Purple Day at Chesapeake College in September 2018.

ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland Department of Health and Opioid Operational Command Center released its 2019 second quarter report, showing that Maryland has its first six-month decline in the total number of opioid-related fatalities in a decade.

“Though the continued decline in fatal overdoses is welcome news, the heroin and opioid epidemic remains a crisis and we will continue to respond with all the tools at our disposal,” Gov. Larry Hogan said. “The fight against heroin and opioid overdoses has torn apart communities and families throughout our state and across the nation. Together, we can and we must do more in order to save the lives of thousands of Marylanders.”

In the first two quarters of 2019, there were 1,182 total unintentional intoxication deaths in the state, an 11.3% decrease compared to the same period in 2018. Of that total, 89.7% (1,060) were opioid-related deaths, primarily attributable to fentanyl. Opioid-related deaths declined by 11.1%.

Compared to the same period in 2018, heroin-related deaths continued to decline, decreasing 14.9% through June 2019; and prescription opioid-related deaths declined by 3.5% in the first six months of 2019.

“Fatal Overdose Deaths statewide during the first half dropped by about 11%,” Talbot County Sheriff Joe Gamble said. “I believe that across the state the use of Narcan is helping. I think that people are learning to dispose of or safely store their prescriptions. I also believe that the medical community is making great strides to reduce the amount of prescriptions as well. I hope that the Good Samaritan Law (does) as well.”

In 2017, Hogan became the first governor in the nation to declare a State of Emergency in response to the heroin, opioid and fentanyl crisis. The Hogan administration has implemented several opioid-related policies, including the expansion of the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program; and the provision of millions in grant funding to local health departments and treatment programs.

The administration also established the Maryland Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force and the Inter-Agency Heroin and Opioid Coordinating Council, both led by Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford.

“While we know there is still much work to be done with regard to this epidemic, the decline of heroin and opioid-related deaths over the first two quarters of 2019 gives us hope that we are on the right track,” Rutherford said. “We appreciate the efforts of all the stakeholders at the state and local levels, and in the medical and advocacy communities, who have been working with us over the last several years to implement a comprehensive, holistic response to this public health crisis.”

Fentanyl continues to be the deadliest substance, with 962 fentanyl-related deaths occurring in the first six months of 2019. This represents a 7.8% decrease over the same period last year. Fentanyl was involved in 90.8% of opioid-related deaths during this period.

Deaths related to cocaine, the third most prevalent drug involved with overdose deaths, declined as well. Comparing the periods of January through June 2018 and 2019, the number of cocaine-related deaths decreased 16.6%. The increase in cocaine-related deaths over the last several years can be attributed to cocaine combined with opioids, which were found in approximately 90% of cocaine-related deaths so far in 2019.

The release of the report comes during National Recovery Month, a time to raise awareness of substance use disorders and the resources available to end addiction. The report also comes during the second year of Dorchester Goes Purple, which is based off of Talbot Goes Purple, an initiative raising awareness about the dangers of substance abuse.

“Prevention and providing treatment 24/7 continue to be our priorities,” Maryland Department of Health Secretary Robert R. Neall said. “We’re continuing our efforts to get naloxone out into the community and to train people on how to use it.”

The OOCC provides performance measures by state agencies and Maryland’s 24 opioid intervention teams, details about opioid-related spending, and information regarding Maryland’s fight against the heroin and opioid epidemic.

“We are confident that the right strategies are in place to advance Governor Hogan’s policy priorities of prevention and education, enforcement and public safety, and treatment and recovery,” Executive Director of the Opioid Operational Command Center Steve Schuh said.

Before It’s Too Late is the state’s effort to bring awareness to this epidemic and to mobilize resources for effective prevention, treatment and recovery. Marylanders struggling with a substance use disorder can find help at BeforeItsTooLateMD.org, by calling 211 and pressing 1, or by texting their ZIP code to 898-211.

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