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August 31, 2021


Credit: Montgomery Community Media, Maryam Shahzad

Tuesday is International Overdose Awareness Day.

Last year, 108 county residents died from opioid drug overdose. Last week, S.O.U.L. (Surviving Our Ultimate Loss) partnered with Montgomery County to host an event to commemorate lives lost to overdose, reduce the stigma around drug-related deaths and inform residents about the county’s progress in battling the opioid epidemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has combined with the opioid epidemic with painful and deadly consequences, County Health and Human Services Director Dr. Raymond Crowel said. He said the county was making progress against the opioid epidemic until the pandemic hit.

“The numbers of deaths and overdoses were going down, they were going in the right direction. Our distribution of Narcan, and our training and education pieces were on a run. And then we got sidetracked,” he said. Narcan is an emergency medicine to treat an opioid overdose.

Crowel said the pandemic has made health officials more aware than ever of the close relationship between mental health and substance use.

“Anyone, anyone who has faced addiction, whether by lived experience or by watching a loved one suffer through this knows the risks of social isolation and of being disconnected and of emotional distress,” he said.

“Isolation mixed with uncertainty and fear, I think, has led us to increased anxiety and depression. It’s made it difficult for those in treatment to maintain access and stay connected to service. And it’s led to our friends and our families to turn to or return to substance use and self harm. And we’ve seen that play out this last year in the numbers.”

Opioid overdose deaths increased 29% in 2020 compared to 2019. But, Crowel said the county adapted in the face of the pandemic and made efforts to meet resident needs.

Local leaders emphasized their commitment to fighting the epidemic and ending the stigma around drug-related deaths.

“This is not only a day to honor their memories, it is a call to action—we must all work together to get help to those who need it,” Gov. Larry Hogan wrote on Twitter. He ordered the Maryland flag to fly at half-staff Tuesday.

“Addressing addiction is one of my top priorities in #Congress, and I will work tirelessly to improve support for all Marylanders suffering from addiction,” Rep. David Trone (MD-06) said.

“We saw addiction rates go up dramatically over the last year and a half due to COVID-19. This week we recommit to taking actions to prevent overdoses and related deaths,” said U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.).