Recently the Maryland Department of Health released preliminary statistics for overdose fatalities through the third quarter of 2018. From January through September of 2018, there were 1,648 opioid-related deaths in Maryland, a 10 percent increase from 2017. In Queen Anne’s County, opioid-related overdoses increased by 140 percent, illuminating the reality that we aren’t doing enough to end the overdose epidemic that is wreaking havoc on our families, friends and neighbors.
I moved to Queenstown after spending 28 years as a district court judge in Tulsa, Oklahoma. During my time on the bench, I frequently observed the flaws in how we treat drug use as a criminal justice problem instead of a public health problem. It was after my move to Maryland that I discovered the Law Enforcement Action Partnership and decided to use my experience to help other public safety advocates see the benefits to changing the way we tackle drug-related issues. As Queen Anne’s County continues to experience rises in opioid-related problems, it’s time to develop a robust local harm reduction program, including syringe services.
Syringe Service Programs are public health interventions that prevent the re-use and sharing of used syringes to reduce the spread of infectious disease and maintain the cleanliness and safety of our community. Additionally, SSPs ensure the safety of first responders who can be stuck with syringes while on the job. These programs were authorized for statewide implementation in Maryland after Governor Larry Hogan signed the Opioid-Associated Disease Prevention and Outreach Act in 2016, a bill that passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. Since then, several counties throughout the state have begun operation of SSPs.
It is time for the Queen Anne’s County Department of Health to further their fight against the harms of substance use through the development of a local syringe service program. I hope that Queen Anne’s County Health Officer, Dr. Joseph Ciotola, M.D., continues to help our residents who struggle with substance use disorder by requesting this life-saving intervention to come to our community. This would be a great addition to the Mobile Integrated Community Health Program that is already providing services to those most at need in our county. With coordinated effort from local public health officials and funding from the state for harm reduction programs, Queen Anne’s County can save more members of the community from falling through the cracks.
JUDGE GORDON McALLISTER (RET.)