Opioid Epidemic Worsens in Md., Nationally

ROCKVILLE, Md. — In Maryland, opioid-related deaths nearly quadrupled between 2010 and 2016, mainly due to an increase in fatal heroin and fentanyl overdoses. And while Montgomery County has fewer such fatal overdoses than other Maryland counties, it’s seen “sharp increases” in those deaths in recent years.

Those are among the findings of a recent study from the Montgomery County Council’s Office of Legislative Oversight. The study found that many people who turn to heroin had first used an opioid prescription drug, and it looked at ways to reduce the overprescribing of these drugs.

Legislative analyst Natalia Carrizosa and senior legislative analyst Kristen Latham, of the county’s Office of Legislative Oversight, wrote the report.

Carrizosa said, “At the county level, rates of fatal overdoses from opioids are significantly lower than other Maryland counties. But we have seen very similar trends in the past several years (in Montgomery County), sharp increases in fatal overdoses from heroin and fentanyl.”

She said that in Montgomery County last year, there were 102 drug or alcohol intoxication deaths; of those, 26 were related to prescription opioids; 48 were related to heroin and 43 were related to prescription fentanyl or illegal fentanyl. Some of these deaths are counted more than once since multiple drugs were used.

Carrizosa said that just few years ago there was probably one death from fentanyl. “So the fentanyl deaths have risen very much in the past few years.”

The report identifies ways the county could better prevent the harmful use of prescription opioids.

One of the big problems found by the study is that those who prescribe opioids have received little training. The county will now look at ways to better enhance the education for those in the county who prescribe opioids such as doctors, nurses and dentists.

The report also looked at best practices for Maryland’s prescription drug monitoring program, which has only been around for a few years.

In recent years, the abuse of prescription opioids has become a public health crisis in the U.S. The Montgomery County report cited Centers for Disease Control statistics finding that with 19,000 Americans died from prescription opioids in 2014, the last year for which nationwide numbers are available.

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