A look at Maryland’s Opiod epidemic
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On March 1, 2017, Governor Larry Hogan declared a State of Emergency due to the significant heroin, opioid and fentanyl addictions across Maryland. Signing an Executive Order that aims to combat the problem, Maryland is fighting back – hard – with a $50-million investment and new senior emergency management advisor to tackle Maryland’s opioid addiction issues, head-on.
A quick glance at Maryland’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s most recent Drug and Alcohol-Related Deaths chart reveals a disturbing trend – a steep ascent upward, between 2007-2015. It appears that we are, indeed, in a true state of emergency.
The top three mortality increases between 2007 and 2015 were for alcohol – at an increase of over 65% more deaths within those eight years; Heroin, which increased by 87.5%; and Fentanyl, which ballooned to an over 1,200% influx in deaths.
Another MDHMH chart shows that Baltimore City and Baltimore County were home to the highest number of deaths by intoxication in 2015. Addiction and overdose are serious issues in Maryland, and it appears that Baltimore City and County are leading the state in mortalities due to intoxication.
(Click on graphs to enlarge)
Teens and overdoses.
On February 2, 2017, 19-year old Penn State student, Timothy Piazza, died five days after drinking a lethal amount of alcohol and falling, during a hazing ritual for the Beta Theta Pi fraternity. In 2012, Anais Fourney of Maryland, passed of caffeine toxicity after consuming two consecutive 24-oz energy drinks.
Substance use and abuse can start at any age, however according to the National Institute of Alcohol and Alcoholism, by the age of 15, “about 33 percent of teens have had at least one drink. By the age 18, about 60 percent of teens have had at least one drink. And in 2015, 7.7 million minors, ages 12–20, reported that they drank alcohol beyond ’just a few sips’ in the past month.”
The US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health estimates that “more than eight million children younger than age 18 live with at least one adult who has a substance abuse problem, which translates to more than one in 10 children.” Their studies show a pattern of addiction that alters child development, while increasing the likelihood “that a child will struggle with emotional, behavioral, or substance use problems.”
Alcohol and drug abuse can create a familial cycle that can wreak havoc on families and society at large. It is an insidious disease that can often start young, and increase in strength and drug potency, seemingly during experimentation.
In a 2016 Washington Post article, research revealed that alcohol is the “true gateway drug” for teens, while a Johns Hopkins researcher suggests that teens who consume one or more energy drinks per week have a higher proclivity to engage in all types of risky behaviors, including smoking cigarettes, abusing drugs such as Ritalin and cocaine, and they are more likely to smoke marijuana, use prescription opioids, as well as drive while intoxicated.
So what do we do about our State of Emergency? And how can we contribute to ending this upward trend? And early? Or at all?
It turns out that Baltimore County is chock full of resources and statistics for adults, families and parents of teens who are using – or are at risk of using – drugs and alcohol. Baltimore County’s Director of Health and Human Services, Gregory Wm. Branch, M.D, has a bright vision for Baltimore County’s citizens. “It is the vision of the Baltimore County Department of Health to have healthy people living, working and playing in Baltimore County. Our mission is to promote health and prevent disease by educating communities, advocating for healthy lifestyles, linking people to resources and treating various health conditions.”
Additionally, nestled in the heart of tree-lined Towson, Sheppard Pratt has an out-patient program for alcohol and substance abusers called Kolmak. Also on the Sheppard Pratt campus, there is a wonderful free resource which is open to families, adults and teens. Every Wednesday night from 7-9pm, there is a Dick Prodey lecture series. The free meeting requires no registration, has plenty of free parking, and is held at the Sheppard Pratt Conference Center. This very informative lecture series aims to educate families and those struggling with addiction, on addiction, alcoholism and drug abuse.
As with any program, however, the first step is to get to the place of acknowledging that there is, indeed, a problem. Our state and county are in trouble, we have acknowledged it, and are working toward healing our citizens. Let’s stop the cycle and participate in that bright vision, which is to have healthy people living, working and playing in Baltimore County.
For more information and resources, see Baltimore County’s Department of Mental and Behavioral Health.
(Ann Costantino is a contributing writer for The Baltimore Post)