Md. opioid-related overdose deaths rise slightly, but Prince George’s sees deaths more than double

Opioid-related intoxication deaths for Maryland counties and Baltimore city between Jan. and March 2020. (Courtesy Maryland Department of Health)

Maryland saw a slight rise in opioid-related deaths over the first quarter of 2020, preliminary data from the state’s health department show, together with increases in unintentional overdoses across nearly all other major drug categories.

The latest quarterly report, compiled by the Opioid Operational Command Center and the Maryland Department of Health, showed 561 Marylanders died of opioid overdose across all 23 counties and Baltimore City from January to March 2020, 2.6% higher than over the same period last year. Opioid substances were blamed for about 89% of all drug or alcohol intoxication deaths, of which there were 626 in total.

Deaths in Prince George’s County more than doubled, while deaths in Montgomery County increased by nearly 40%, when compared with the same period a year earlier.

In Prince George’s County, 37 people died in the first quarter, compared with 14 deaths over the same time span in 2019. In Montgomery County, 26 died, compared with 19 in 2019. Frederick County say seven fewer deaths, with 13 reported.

The report said:

“Geographically, the most significant increases in opioid-related fatalities were seen in the Capital Region, which is made up of Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, and Frederick County. The Capital Region had 76 opioid-related fatalities in the first quarter of 2020, a 43.4 percent increase from the first quarter of 2019. The largest increase, both regionally and statewide, was observed in Prince George’s County, which had 23 additional fatal overdoses (37 in 2020 compared to 14 in 2019, a 164.3 percent increase).”

Baltimore City recorded 205 opioid-related deaths, the most out of any local jurisdiction in Maryland. Baltimore County saw 80 deaths, and Anne Arundel County reported 52. Together, those three localities account for just under two-thirds of the state’s three-month opioid fatalities.

Here’s a look at opioid-related deaths by county. (Courtesy Maryland Department of Health)

The Western Maryland counties of Garrett, Allegany and Washington saw a 45.2% increase, with 45 fatalities. Of those, 30 occurred in Washington County.

The Eastern Shore saw a jump of 16.3%, with 50 fatalities. Cecil County, which borders Delaware and Pennsylvania, saw an 81.8% increase, with 20 deaths.

Southern Maryland’s regional opioid-related deaths declined by one, or 6.7%.

A news release presenting the data called the first-quarter results “a slight but disappointing shift in the direction of the state’s drug-related fatality numbers,” after statewide fatalities had experienced their first annual decline in over a decade during 2019.

Introducing the report, Opioid Operational Command Center Executive Director Steven Schuh said the coronavirus pandemic had complicated the state’s ability to respond to the substance abuse crisis, which he said remains among Maryland’s greatest public health challenges.

“While these figures are disappointing on their own, they are met with further indicators – including substantial increases in both cocaine-related and alcohol-related deaths – of a substance use crisis that has been worsened by societal upheaval,” Schuh wrote.

“Everybody involved in addressing the opioid crisis – every clinician, every advocacy group, every concerned parent and every citizen – needs to renew their dedication to addressing this problem.”

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