COVID-19 pandemic deals setback to Maryland’s opioid progress

Since the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown began, the nation has been seeing double-digit increases in the numbers of opioid overdoes and deaths compared with last year. But numbers are up only slightly in Maryland.

In the first quarter of 2020, there were 561 opioid-related deaths in Maryland. That’s a 2.6% increase from the first quarter of 2019.

That, while suspected overdoses nationally — not all of them fatal — jumped by 18% in March compared with last year, by 29% in April, and by 42% in May, according to the Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program, a federal initiative that collects data from ambulance teams, hospitals and police.

“Though we don’t celebrate any increases, certainly a 2.6% increase [in Maryland] is small compared to where it could be,” said Dr. Aliya Jones, the deputy secretary of Maryland’s Behavioral Health Administration.

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Maryland’s aggressive, decadelong effort to counter the opioid crisis had been on a positive path, with a decrease for the first time of 2.5% in 2019. But that’s now been lost.

“We have certainly, at this point, undone any gains that we made in 2019, and so that is very concerning,” Jones said.

But efforts to help people struggling with drugs and alcohol have not been suspended during the pandemic, and many 12-step support groups have been taking place virtually.

“Services are still available to you,” Jones said. “Programs that did scale back and/or close — and we had very, very few that did — they are coming back online.”

Regardless of what your challenges may be, Jones said everyone living through the pandemic needs help, support and assistance.

Maryland residents can find help by calling 211 (press 1).

The Behavioral Health Administration website also has numbers of support resources that are available, including treatment locators for virtual programs.

Nationwide, people can find help online and at 1-800-662-HELP.

“There’s no shame or stigma in picking up the phone and telling someone you have this problem. You will be warmly received and helped to get the support you need to make it through this pandemic,” Jones said.

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Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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