CHESTERTOWN — Fentanyl is insidious, luring in drug users because it delivers a stronger kick and is less expensive than heroin.

It’s also more deadly.

Kent County has had seven overdose deaths in 2019, all of them involving fentanyl or fentanyl analogs, according to William Webb, the county’s health officer.

Webb said Kent’s two overdose deaths in 2018 also were attributable to fentanyl.

Fentanyl has become “devastatingly prevalent,” Webb said, because it is up to 50 times more potent that heroin and is fast-acting, creating a shorter duration “high” when compared to heroin.

Joe Jones, the Local Addiction Authority for Kent County, said fentanyl “now is the expectation and preference of the opioid user.” It also is showing up in cannabis, methamphetamine and cocaine — as well as heroin.

Like morphine and some other prescribed opioids, fentanyl can be used legitimately to treat patients with severe pain. It is a Schedule II substance, which means it has a high potential for abuse.

Synthetically created illegal fentanyl is not regulated, which has contributed to skyrocketing overdose deaths.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, synthetic opioids — including fentanyl — are now the most common drugs involved in OD deaths in the United States. In 2017, 59.8% of opioid-related deaths involved fentanyl. In 2010, that number was 14.3%.

Fentanyl as a street drug is sold as a powder; dropped on blotter paper like small candies, in eye droppers or nasal sprays; or made into pills that look like prescribed opioids.

The high potency of fentanyl greatly increases the risk of overdose, especially if the drug user is unaware that a powder or pill contains it.

Kent has joined the other Mid-Shore counties in Maryland in a “Go Purple” initiative this month to bring awareness to the opioid epidemic. Prevention and recovery also are part of the movement.

Jones, of the Kent County Health Department, said there have been 54 recorded overdoses in Kent in 2019.

The increase in illegal drug-related deaths comes at a time when the county is allocating more resources to treatment and education.

Jones said in an email that “combatants in the opioid epidemic battle” provided locally include an Opioid Misuse Prevention Program that funds drug take back days, drug drop-off boxes, consumer education on opioid prescriptions, safe storage of narcotics and safe disposal of prescription drugs.

“We also have procured funding for a No Harm in Helping harm reduction and mobile-medication assisted treatment (MAT) program to provide Vivitrol and Sublocade injections to consumers in recovery residences in the Mid-Shore area. We are also providing education on overdose signs and symptoms, safe use information, fentanyl test strips, Narcan trainings, Good Samaritan laws and campaigning for anti-stigma,” he said in the email.

Kent County has an Opioid Intervention Team that responds to the University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Chestertown for all people brought to the emergency room for an overdose.

There also is a strong community-based Local Drug and Alcohol Council represented by dozens of agencies (law enforcement, Department of Social Services, judges, emergency responders) that meets once a month.

Kent has two recovery residences; walk-in Wednesdays from 9 to 11 a.m. each week at the A.F. Whitsitt Center on Scheeler Road in Chestertown; and an increase from four to 10 crisis beds at the Whitsitt Center, which expanded from a 20- to a 40-bed facility in 2015.

“There is so much support and work being done in Kent County, yet much more can be accomplished,” Jones wrote in an email Wednesday morning.

He said community partners “are working diligently 24/7 to eradicate the opioid problem in our county, but it starts at each and every community member’s front door. ... Please assist those in need of our help.”

Call 410-778-5894 to talk to a Peer Recovery Specialist or 410-778-6404 for information about substance use disorder services.

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