Heroin: Overdoses down slightly, but long way to go

There have been nights Lori Brewster has stayed awake, worrying about the heroin problem in Wicomico County and how the Health department she directs can help even more.

“I worry, yes I do. Our goal is that we will see this begin to decline and I think we have started to see some of that in the last quarter of the year,” Brewster told the Salisbury Independent.

“We’ve seen less and less overdose cases. This year, in January, we had one overdose death, compared to last January when we had at least four, so that is significant. I think we are turning the curve,” she said.

“From January to September last year, the information we have –because the medical examiner’s office has to go through and look at data to make sure of a true drug overdose — shows 40 drug, and also related intoxication, deaths in Wicomico County. For the same time period, there were 21 heroin-related deaths,” she said.

From January to September 2016, there were 918 heroin-related deaths statewide, two in Somerset County and 10 in Worcester County.

There were 30 deaths from fentanyl but Brewster stressed some statistics may overlap because there could have been more than one drug in a person’s system when he overdosed.

Use of fentanyl, commonly prescribed for cancer pain, has increased 280 percent, largely because it is inexpensive and being brought in from other countries. Fentanyl is commonly mixed with heroin by dealers and can be more deadly than heroin. Users who think they are getting straight heroin often receive the fatal mix.

Opioids are projected to be the fourth leading cause of death in Maryland, after cancer, strokes and heart attacks, Brewster said.

Education about opioids and heroin is being provided through a joint venture of state officials and Maryland Public Television who, on Feb. 11, will present the hour-long documentary Breaking Heroin’s Grip: Road to Recovery.

Described at www.mpt.org/breakingheroin as “a poignant and personal documentary shedding light on our region’s pressing heroin problem,” the story is told “through the lens of adults that have experienced heroin’s grip first hand.”

There will be a phone bank to highlight the state’s crisis hotline team.

Another state-related aid is the Good Samaritan Law, passed last year.

“It lets individuals know, if they are fearful of calling 911 if they see somebody overdosing, that they won’t get into any trouble. That will not occur,” Brewster explained.

“We’re still doing the fatality review team. We review every overdose death to see if any of the other agencies that may have touched these individuals missed the opportunity to get involved in treatment and see if we could have done something so they didn’t overdose,” Brewster said.

The number of prescription drop-off boxes in the county has been increased, to leave bottles of drugs that are outdated, unused or unwanted, so they aren’t found or stolen and abused.

The county’s Community Outreach Addiction Team, known as COAT, which matches recovering addicts with those who recently overdosed, has enjoyed great success.

“Since the first part of June, there have been 570 outreach calls to provide information related to the COAT team. There were 139 calls for a COAT team member to respond to reported overdoses. Of those, 57 percent provided assistance into treatment,” Brewster said.

Between the time of the overdose and the beginning of rehab, COAT members meet with individuals frequently and urge them to seek treatment.

“That’s part of what it is. The other pieces is, some of these individuals don’t know how to access treatment. A lot of people don’t know help is available. We also do a lot of work with family members if the individual will allow us to. We provide education and outreach to the family members so they know what is going on and how to access treatment for the family,” Brewster explained.

Community members help by learning how to use Narcan, the antidote for an overdose. More than 1,000 people have been trained and provided with Narcan. They carry it with them and use it to revive anyone who has overdosed.

Free training Narcan training is available the second Tuesday of each month at the Wicomico County Public Library.

This story is part of The Heroin Battle, a special report published in the Feb. 9, 2017 issue of Salisbury Independent.

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