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COMMENTARY | The Opioid Crisis; Part 1

  • St Mary's County,Prince George's County
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Nine years ago, on January 15, 2012, my daughter was run over by a taxi in Baltimore. The Ravens had just won the first game of the playoffs and Baltimore was in a frenzy of celebration. My daughter was just about to start her last semester of college at Towson University. She and a friend were crossing the street when a taxi driver (who was texting at the time) thought the Baltimore City Police officer was motioning for him to drive. The officer, however, was motioning for the taxi to stop and for the pedestrians to cross. It was 6:30 at night, in the middle of winter, and it was dark outside.

My daughter was the first one in the crosswalk when the taxi proceeded to drive instead of stop. He ran over her-with both wheels-front and back. The last thing she remembers before waking up on a ventilator at Baltimore Shock Trauma is hearing all of the screams from the crowd that assembled after she was struck. After almost two weeks in shock trauma, her physician sent her home with an assortment of opioids. This is where the story could have gone terribly wrong, and many times this is the familiar beginning of opioid addiction.

My daughter had been hooked up to a morphine pump during her entire stay in Baltimore Shock Trauma. She had one fully collapsed lung and one that was partially collapsed, eleven broken ribs (many of them broken in two or three places), and a ripped earlobe. She was lucky to be alive. But when she was discharged from the hospital, the nurse told her that she was addicted to morphine. “It’s not your fault,” the discharge nurse responded at my daughter’s frightening gasp, “I’m a drug addict?”

The news that she was addicted to opioids terrified her. She decided at that moment not to wean herself off of the morphine and codeine as was suggested. She was going to stop taking all of the opioids immediately and stick to Tylenol and ibuprofen. It was not anything I said that stopped her from continuing to take the opioids she was legally prescribed. I honestly didn’t know at the time just how dangerous and addictive opioids could be.

The drive home from Baltimore to Southern Maryland was rough. Although she was no longer hooked up to a morphine pump, she continued to instinctively push her thumb down as if she was getting more morphine any time we drove over any bump or pothole. I'm not sure why my daughter went cold turkey on the drugs. Maybe it’s because she knew of someone from her high school who had lost her life to an opioid overdose. What I do know, and understand now more than ever, is that she dodged a huge bullet that day. We were lucky. I have known too many others that have not been so fortunate.

Although opioids are often a helpful part of recovery for patients with chronic pain or those recovering from major surgeries or serious injury, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, roughly 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them. About 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids. I have known several people who were prescribed opioids, only to struggle with addiction afterward. Each story involves many serious struggles-legally, financially, and personally. But these stories are theirs to tell.

Heroin, fentanyl, and carfentanil are very powerful opioid drugs responsible for many recent drug overdose deaths. Very small amounts of these can be lethal. Sometimes these opioids are disguised and mixed into the drugs sold on the street, including non-opioid drugs. Drug sellers and drug buyers may not even know that the drugs they are selling or buying have these incredibly lethal opioid substances in them.

An overdose is when the power of the drug overcomes the body. The amount of the drug needed to cause an overdose varies based upon the drug or drug mixture, the person using, and other circumstances. Even the same person who uses the same drug may not overdose one day but could overdose and die the next day. People die from an opioid overdose because opioid drugs tell the body to stop breathing.

The global pandemic of COVID-19 has been at the forefront of our nation for nearly a year now. During this time, another epidemic has spiked across our nation, and Maryland has not been spared. The nation’s opioid epidemic has continued to increase-despite the efforts to combat this crisis.

Four of my friends have lost a child to an opioid overdose. These were all children from loving, supportive families. This crisis can touch people from any culture, class, gender, education level, or social status. The feeling of sadness and helplessness overcomes me every time I learn of another death. Each one of these children were beautiful souls. Each one had so much to offer this world. In the prime of their lives, instantly, they were gone.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 128 people in the United States die every day from an opioid overdose. Drug overdoses are a leading cause of unintentional death in the United States, and opioids are a major force behind these deaths. All ages and communities are affected by opioid addiction.

Opioid overdoses have skyrocketed so much that it has become the worst drug epidemic in modern American history. In 2017, there were over 47,000 opioid overdose deaths in the United States—more than from automobile accidents or firearm-related homicides. While numbers were rising before the COVID pandemic hit, the latest numbers suggest an accelerated number of overdose deaths during the pandemic. According to the CDC, in the twelve months ending in May 2020, the opioid drug overdose number spiked to over 81,000.

Boredom, loneliness, isolation, job loss, and anxiety about getting COVID-19 have all affected mental health.

“The disruption to daily life due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit those with substance use disorder hard,” said former CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield, in December. “As we continue to fight to end this pandemic, it’s important to not lose sight of different groups being affected in other ways. We need to take care of people suffering from unintended consequences. Further complicating the widespread opioid crisis, many substance abuse support groups were temporarily suspended and others moved to virtual meetings due to social distancing measures. This has left a big gap in the support being offered to those most vulnerable to substance abuse."

Opioids are addictive drugs, man-made or naturally derived from the opium poppy plant. Some opioids are prescription drugs (such as oxycontin, morphine, and pharmaceutical), and other opioids are made for the illegal drug market (such as heroin and non-prescribed fentanyl). While opioid abuse is often equated with drugs purchased illegally off the street, prescription opioids can and are often misused and distributed illegally. 

There is help available for those suffering from addiction as well as those that are concerned about a family member or friend’s addiction. In addition to prevention initiatives, each county offers support services. If you think someone you know might be using opioids non medically or developing an addiction, I urge you to seek help for them. Opioid use disorder is a chronic, treatable condition that can be managed successfully with medication and recovery support services.

Naloxone (NARCAN, EVZIO) is a prescription medication that safely and effectively reverses an opioid overdose. Naloxone is used to restore breathing in an opioid overdose and save that person’s life so they have a chance at getting the longer term help they may need.

Anyone can get naloxone at a Maryland pharmacy without a prescription.

How to Get Naloxone
Ask your doctor – Maryland law allows any healthcare provider who can prescribe drugs in Maryland to prescribe naloxone to their patients. Your provider can prescribe you naloxone if you are personally at risk for opioid overdose OR if you are likely to witness an overdose and be in a position to respond.

Maryland Overdose Response Program –The Maryland Overdose Response Program (ORP) offers in-person, hands-on training and certification in recognizing and responding to opioid overdose with naloxone. Most ORP trainings are free to attend and also provide naloxone to trainees at no charge. Visit the ORP website or contact the ORP for more information.


The Maryland Overdose Response Program offers help to anyone that would like to learn:

  • How opioids impact the brain and body
  • How to recognize the signs and symptoms of opioid overdose
  • How to administer naloxone
  • How to care for someone who is having an overdose until emergency help arrives
  • Participants receive a free rescue kit that includes naloxone, available via scheduled curb-side pickup.

Prevention is always better than dealing with the aftermath of drug addiction. The federal  government has stepped up their efforts to educate parents on the importance of preventing opioid abuse. Click on the links below for tips/advice on preventing opioid abuse.


Please email me at joanstevens@thebaynet.com if you would like to contribute to future articles on this topic.


National Institute on Drug Abuse Prevention Tips for Parents
https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/opioids-facts-parents-need-to-know/letter-to-parents

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Information for Parents
https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/patients/index.html

For more information, or to seek help with opioid prevention or treatment for addiction in Southern Maryland, click on the corresponding link(s) below:

St. Mary’s County, MD
Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery
http://www.smchd.org/opioid/

Charles County, MD
Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery
https://www.charlescountymd.gov/services/health-and-human-services/opioid-abuse-and-ovperdose-prevention

Calvert County, MD
Opioid prevention
https://www.calverthealth.org/personalhealth/substanceabuse/prevention.htm

Overdose response program
https://www.calverthealth.org/personalhealth/substanceabuse/naloxone.htm#:~:text=Free%20Training%20for%20Community%20Members,breathing%20problems%20from%20opioid%20overdose.

Treatment for Opioid addiction
https://www.calverthealth.org/personalhealth/substanceabuse/services.htm

Anne Arundel County, MD
Opioid Misuse Prevention
https://aahealth.org/opioid-misuse-prevention-program-ompp/

Opioid Response Training
https://aahealth.org/events/oort/

Substance Abuse Treatment
https://aahealth.org/substance-abuse-treatment/

Prince George’s County, MD
Alcohol and Drug Prevention
https://www.princegeorgescountymd.gov/2877/Alcohol-Drug-Prevention

Opioid Response Training
https://www.princegeorgescountymd.gov/2958/Overdose-Response-Training

Substance Abuse Treatment
https://www.princegeorgescountymd.gov/2836/Behavioral-Health-Outpatient-Services

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