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January 15, 2021

Rep. Trone: ‘All hands on deck’ needed to end opioid-related deaths

State and federal legislators must accomplish more to help protect Marylanders and other Americans from overdose deaths during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Rep. David Trone (D-MD) said Wednesday.

“The devastating increases in overdose deaths throughout my district and the state of Maryland confirm that we are not doing nearly enough to support those with substance use disorders through the COVID-19 pandemic,” said the congressman, who serves on the national Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking. “We need all hands on deck. Lives are at stake.”

There were 2,025 unintentional intoxication deaths involving all types of drugs and alcohol in Maryland between January and September 2020, representing a 12.1 percent increase from the same period in 2019 when there were 1,806 such fatalities, according to a Jan. 13 report on the opioid crisis in Maryland for the third quarter of 2020 released by the state’s Opioid Operational Command Center (OOCC) and the Maryland Department of Health.  

“These increases are likely the result of the coronavirus pandemic, which has disrupted treatment and recovery support systems and has led to economic stress, despair, and uncertainty, especially among vulnerable populations,” according to the report. “Officials believe that these circumstances have elevated substance misuse not only in Maryland but also across the country.”

Opioids were involved in 1,829 deaths, or over 93 percent, of overdose cases in the third quarter of 2020, says the report, which represents an increase of 14.5 percent as compared to the same period in 2019.

Fentanyl remains the opioid responsible for the most fatalities in the state, factoring into 93 percent of all opioid-related deaths from January to September 2020, according to the report, which adds that deaths related to prescription opioids and non-opioid substances, including cocaine and alcohol, also increased during the same time period.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created additional challenges for people suffering from substance use disorder,” said Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan in a statement. “People are hurting, and we must continue to increase access to care, particularly for our underserved communities.”

Every county in Maryland’s Sixth Congressional District, which is represented in Congress by Rep. Trone, experienced increases in overdose deaths, according to the report: 

Allegany County: 111.1 percent increase;

Washington County: 36.8 percent increase;

Garrett County: 25 percent increase;

Montgomery County: 14.7 percent increase; and

Frederick County: 2.1 percent increase.

“As politicians argue in Washington, real people are dying from overdoses and mental health challenges across the country,” Rep. Trone said. “We cannot waste any time to increase funds for treatment programs, connect individuals with the care they need, and bolster our prevention efforts to curb the addiction epidemic.”

The situation mirrors what’s happening across the nation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently cited an almost 17-percent increase in reported fatalities from all types of drugs between May 2019 and May 2020. 

CDC officials said the increase has accelerated across the country as pandemic conditions have worsened, and indicated that the 17-percent increase could continue to rise as toxicology reports confirm more cases.

“This new CDC data makes clear the dire situation so many Americans find themselves in during this global pandemic,” Rep. Trone said last month. “These drugs are unpredictable, potent  and deadly, and they’ve never been more available across the United States. Those with substance use disorder need increased assistance, and they need it now.”  

Maryland has made strides in its efforts to expand access to behavioral health resources for vulnerable populations throughout the pandemic, according to the Before It’s Too Late website, the state’s effort to raise awareness about the opioid and substance use crisis and to mobilize resources for effective prevention, enforcement and treatment. 

For instance, Maryland ranked third among U.S. states for increasing access to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for vulnerable populations, including those with co-occurring substance use disorders, through the SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery (SOAR) initiative, according to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Eligible adults and children who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness can access services through SOAR, which in Maryland includes a pilot program established by MDH’s Behavioral Health Administration to coach case workers in Montgomery County, Md., on more efficiently processing SSI/SSDI applications.

Additionally, Maryland’s OOCC is working with jurisdictional Opioid Intervention Teams to promote adoption of the Opioid Screening and Treatment in Correctional Settings program, which was developed under 2019 federal legislation to decrease the number of fatal overdoses experienced by individuals involved with the criminal justice system. 

The program requires correctional facilities to assess each inmate for mental health and substance use disorders and to provide access to FDA-approved, medication-assisted treatments for opioid use disorder. Provisions of the program are being implemented now, according to Before It’s Too Late.