After more than a decade of attempted change, the number of opioid-related deaths in Maryland has declined according to the Maryland Department of Health and Opioid Operational Command Center. However, the decline was not consistent across all counties, and counties like Montgomery saw an increase in opioid-related deaths.
In comparison to the first six months of 2018, fatal opioid overdose in 2019 decreased by 11 percent in Maryland overall. According to the Washington Post, 13 of the state’s 24 jurisdictions reported a decrease in the number of opioid-related deaths. However, 10 jurisdictions also reported an increased number for deaths. Montgomery County in particular saw an increase in deaths and reported 66 deaths in 2019, a slight increase in comparison to the 57 deaths last year.
Many students would like to see the same progress made in other areas of Maryland appear in Montgomery County. “Although the decline in opioid deaths seems to be a low percentage, I still think that it was a very big and significant step that Maryland took, especially since it’s been around 10 years since we’ve had a decline,” sophomore Hana O’Looney said. “It definitely is upsetting that Montgomery County didn’t experience that similar decrease.”
Maryland is one of the top five states for highest rate of opioid-related overdose deaths, and Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County collectively account for 66.8 percent of such deaths in Maryland during the first half of 2019.
Many of these deaths can be attributed to the synthetic opioid Fentanyl—a drug 50 times more powerful than heroin—which had been skyrocketing in usage until around the first quarter of last year. According to the Washington Post, 90 percent of opioid-related deaths in 2019 were related to Fentanyl.
A lot of students are aware of the opioid crisis, but many do not know the magnitude of the issue in Montgomery County.
“I’ve heard about the opioid epidemic on the news and on social media, but I didn’t realize that it was such a big problem in Maryland and in Montgomery county,” senior Amelia Green said. “I think that it’s important that the county and schools in the county try to spread more awareness about this issue.”
Last year, the state spent $674 million on opioid-related programs and in the 2020 fiscal year, the state is expected to spend $747 million on these programs.
In 2017, Governor Larry Hogan established the Opioid Operation Command Center as part of the Hogan Administration’s 2017 Heroin and Opioid Prevention, Treatment, and Enforcement Initiative. However, due to the surging number of opioid-related fatalities, in March of 2017, Hogan declared a state of emergency.
Chemistry teacher Akshay Gandhi said, “In regard to the opioid crisis, I think the governor has been doing a good job. These things don’t change overnight, I think that you have to look at this a little more medium term. Not like over a decade, but over a course of five years from the programs, has there been a significant improvement?”
In response to the recent decrease in opioid-related deaths statewide, Hogan said in a statement that he was glad to see progress but would continue working to fight the crisis. “We will continue to respond with all the tools at our disposal,” Hogan said.
Steve Schuh, the executive director of Maryland’s Opioid Operational Command Center agreed with Hogan’s statement. In an interview with WTOP, Schuh said, “We do believe that the right strategies are in place, but it’s going to take time to prevail against this very powerful and destructive adversary.”