Maryland’s Heroin and Opioid Crisis Reaches an All-Time High

December 20, 2016

cns-opioid-heroin1Barbara Allen signs her emails with the names of her family members she has lost to addiction.

Jim’s mom, Bill’s sister, Amanda’s aunt.

Her son, Jim, died from a heroin and alcohol overdose in 2003 after battling substance abuse disorder for 22 years.

“What I found really annoyed me and made me angry was there was so little support, and in fact people didn’t have to continue to to die,” said Barbara, who lives in Howard County, Maryland.

In Maryland, heroin-related deaths tripled from 2011 to 2015, rising from 247 to 748, according to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The death rate from drug overdoses in the state is the fifth-worst in the country, and it’s only likely to get worse, experts say.

The rise of heroin and opioids

In the early 2000s, the popularity of heroin and opioids as illegal narcotics soared in Maryland around the same time as overdose deaths due to drugs or alcohol began to increase, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“If you go back to 2006 and 2007, it was most notable here where the conversation internally to the (sheriff’s department) really began because of overdose deaths from opiate painkillers,” said Tim Cameron, the sheriff in St. Mary’s County and a member of the Governor’s Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force in 2015.

When the epidemic first began, most of the people dying from overdoses were young, white and in the middle and upper classes, but that trend soon gave way to include almost all demographic and socioeconomic groups, Cameron said.

“It pretty much affects everyone,” said Sgt. Johnny Murray with the Hagerstown Police Department. “It’s just (a result of) the pill epidemic, when that was uncontrolled and people were being able to ‘doctor shop’ and go to 4 or 5 different doctors and get these powerful narcotics.”

Often after people get addicted to prescription opioid painkillers, they turn to heroin, which is cheaper and provides a similar high, said Murray.

In Washington County, Maryland, Delegate Brett Wilson, R-Hagerstown, who also served on the Governor’s Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force, said people in almost all demographic groups are dying from heroin and opioid overdoses.

“With our patients, they were often completely unaware that the heroin or sometimes even just the pills that they were using had fentanyl in it,” said Dr. Yngvild Olsen, medical director of an outpatient program in Baltimore.

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 25 to 40 times more potent than heroin, has recently seen a surge in popularity because it takes less time to create and can easily be blended into heroin, said Olsen, the president of the Maryland Association for Treatment of Opioid Dependence.

Because of its potency, users require less of the drug to get the same effect as heroin, which makes people who inject fentanyl more susceptible to overdoses. Fentanyl-related deaths have doubled during the first six months of 2016 compared to the same period in 2015, according to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Race, gender changes

Arrest trends in Maryland have shown that for at least the last five years, at least 4,000 to 5,000 more people between the ages of 20 and 24 were arrested for drug abuse violations than those in the next oldest age group — people aged 25-29.

However, the vast majority of people who have been hospitalized for opioid-related disorders are between 45 and 64. According to a Capital News Service analysis, 14,843 people aged 50 to 54 were hospitalized from 2013 to the beginning of 2016 for opioid-related disorders in Maryland — more than any other age group during the same time period,

There is also data to suggest that drug use in middle and high school is declining, perhaps due to renewed drug education efforts, according to Harford County’s Office of Drug Control Policy.

There may also be a disparity between whites and blacks using heroin or opioids.

Between 2012 and 2014, 88,043 blacks were arrested for drug abuse violations while 53,125 whites were arrested for the same crimes during the same time period in Maryland, according to the Maryland State Police.

However, between 2013 and the beginning of 2016, 60,462 whites were hospitalized for opioid-related disorders in Maryland while just 41,918 blacks were hospitalized, according to a Capital News Service analysis of Maryland hospital data.

Even as opioid and heroin use and overdoses have increased across many demographics in Maryland, arrest rates have declined steadily since 2010. While 12,551 people were arrested in 2010 for possession of opium, cocaine or derivatives, just 9,618 people were arrested in 2014.

The Maryland State Police collect arrest data according to the National Uniform Crime Reporting Program guidelines, which consolidates opium, cocaine and like drugs into one category.

Though men are hospitalized more for opioid-related disorders in Maryland, there is evidence to suggest that women may be using heroin and opioids at a higher rate than other drugs.

Between 2012 and 2014, men were arrested at almost five times the rate for drug abuse violations than women.

However, hospitalizations for opioid-related disorders for men have increased 16 percent from 2013 to 2016, while those for women have increased by 15 percent.

“In looking at our numbers, we see that in some categories women are outpacing men related to this problem, and when it comes to (number of deaths), it’s even,” said Dan Alioto, the commander of vice narcotics for St. Mary’s County.

So far this year, the county has had 118 cases where someone was sent to the emergency room for a drug-related condition. Of those 118, 65 were women and 53 were men, said Alioto.

“It’s something that’s different and something that’s evolving,” he told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service. “We’re not used to seeing those kinds of numbers and our jail is not used to seeing those numbers and not equipped to handle those numbers.”

Loss of Affordable Care Act

President-elect Donald Trump began discussing the issue about a month before Election Day.

“A wall will not only keep out dangerous cartels and criminals, but it will also keep out the drugs and heroin poisoning our youth,” he said during an Oct. 15 New Hampshire campaign stop.

In this speech, he detailed a three-pronged plan for combating the addiction epidemic, which included aggressively prosecuting illegal drug traffickers, closing shipping loopholes for drugs and encouraging the approval of drugs to fight addiction such as Suboxone and Narcan.

President Barack Obama signed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act — also known as CARA — into law July 2016. It is considered the most extensive effort taken thus far to address the opioid epidemic and covers prevention, treatment, recovery, law enforcement, criminal justice reform and overdose reversal.

“It would be really a major step backwards to something that would cost even more lives if the Trump administration did not continue and really build on and implement the pieces of both CARA and with the appropriate funding and other steps that will likely be needed to really address this epidemic,” said Olsen.

If Trump repeals the Affordable Care Act — which he promised to do while on the campaign trail — the coverage for many Americans in recovery and treatment who were previously uninsured could disappear, unless he institutes an alternative program.

Even so, Trump actually over-performed the most in counties with the highest drug mortality rates, according to a Pennsylvania State University study. He was even more successful than 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 81.7 percent of these counties.

In rural Somerset County, Maryland, the number of people hospitalized for opioid-related disorders has increased by 91 percent from 2013 to 2016, according to Maryland hospital-patient data.

Trump won Somerset County with 57 percent of the vote, while Obama won the county with 50 percent of the vote in 2012.

The two Maryland counties with the highest increases in hospitalizations — Garrett County with 161 percent and Worcester with 128 percent over the past three years — also voted in the majority for Trump.

The ‘national emergency’

On Dec. 7, the United States Senate passed the 21st Century Cures Act, sending the bill to President Barack Obama, who signed it into law Tuesday.

The $1 billion bill includes $500 million a year to assist states in treating people addicted to opioids and preventing misuse of drugs.

Allen called the act a “huge step forward.”

“Every senator is being pressured because their constituents’ kids are dying, so I feel like we’ve begun to tip the balance of attention that we have this true epidemic,” said Allen, who founded the organization James’ Place to raise money for recovery services after her son’s death.

In Maryland, the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program was started in 2011, but it wasn’t widely adopted up until this year. Starting Oct. 1, doctors authorized to prescribe controlled substances had to register with the program, which analyzes the number of prescriptions coming from medical professionals.

“There’s a lot of value and accountability, to be quite honest, in counting the medication and doing that and sharing that information with others,” said Alioto.

Counties have also begun using state money to hire heroin coordinators within police departments to analyze data, which could help government officials develop a better response to the threat of heroin and opioid abuse, said Glenn Fueston, the executive director of the Governor’s Office on Crime Control and Prevention.

“What we hope to do is continue that process of looking at the data that’s available in the community, looking at ways we can share that data (and) analyze that data, while protecting the privacy and civil liberties of people that the data is involved with,” he said at the legislature’s Nov. 2 meeting of the Joint Committee on Behavioral Health and Opioid Use Disorders.

However, the government needs to do more to address the addiction epidemic, said Carin Miller, the founder of Maryland Heroin Awareness Advocates.

“It needs to be declared a national emergency,” said Miller, whose son is recovering from a heroin addiction and husband is battling an addiction to opioids.

If addiction was properly seen as a disease, Allen said, advocates would get their “fair share of those donor dollars.”

“I’m going to do this anyway,” she said. “I’m going to do this work no matter what, and we’ll do what we can because I don’t have any other choice.”

By Hannah Lang
Capital News Service

In 2014, opioid painkillers killed almost 19,000 Americans. Maryland’s drug overdose death rate is one of the worst in the country. (Hannah Lang/Capital News Service via AP)

In 2014, opioid painkillers killed almost 19,000 Americans. Maryland’s drug overdose death rate is one of the worst in the country. (Hannah Lang/Capital News Service via AP)


34 Responses to Maryland’s Heroin and Opioid Crisis Reaches an All-Time High

  1. WTippett on December 20, 2016 at 9:03 am

    Have you ever tried to get help for someone suffering from this demon of opioid addiction? Nothing but brick walls. Unless the individual has top notch insurance, the facilities wont even talk to you. My son is slowly dying from this demon and every place I reach out to offers me a big ‘sorry’ – maybe take him to the hospital. Tried that .. they gave him some fluids and sent him on his way.

    • Keepin It Real on December 20, 2016 at 10:19 am

      Although I sympathize with your plight, your situation is in the minority. Most opioid addicts DO NOT WANT treatment or refuse it. Offering “better” medical coverage will not have the addicts “turn the corner” and suddenly seek help. More likely, it will allow them to abuse the system and provide even easier access to the drugs that fuel their addiction.

      I hope you have success with getting treatment for your son.

    • xMosquito on December 20, 2016 at 11:47 am

      I wish the best for your son; opioids are very difficult to get off..
      Treatment facilities are at best a temporary solution and medications are basically just replacing one reliance with another. The person really has to want to quit and be strong enough to resist temptation and urges. Unfortunately–many addicts turn to drugs and alcohol because it feels better than reality, as the reliance creates tolerance they need more and more to get back to that original great feeling. Reality becomes much harder to cope with because of withdraw and the fact they obviously wanted to escape it in the first place–long before drugs and withdraw.
      Help him find a better “reality” to embrace, help him find passion for something; interest/hobbies, anything better than escape.

    • Anonymous on December 20, 2016 at 4:42 pm

      the replies to this comment do not acknowledge that the treatment centers help addicts find ways to cope and maintain a life not relying upon drugs. If staying sober were as easy as “wanting to quit,” there wouldn’t be this huge issue.
      Better or more comprehensive insurance will enable people to get the proper tools they need in order to try to beat the addiction- be those tools psychiatric or medical.
      I agree, an addict had to want to change, but there is so much more that goes into sobriety after addiction than that. Recovery centers and access to that kind of professional help are imperative.

      • TonyPP on December 20, 2016 at 6:23 pm

        So you either work at one of these facilities, own one or are simply blinded by some pamphlet you were passed. Please Google success rates for rehab (those that don’t simply use passing their program as their success rate, since getting money for nothing = success to them). Long-Term Success Is far More Likely Without Treatment

        • Anonymous on December 23, 2016 at 10:39 am

          None of the above, actually. Just unfortunately have some first hand experience with people I love and addiction. I’ve done plenty research, and having a career in the medical field, have delved far deeper into that research than by simply “googling.” You are incorrect; treatment does help people, especially when you look long term results.

          You can believe what you want. Medical professionals, psychologist, and experts in the field disagree with you.

  2. AliceW on December 20, 2016 at 10:15 am

    You have to wonder why the parents and friends are not passing on the names of the suppliers to the police. You can hire all the people in the world to analyze data in a room but until you get the pushers off the streets and out of the schools no headway is going to occur! President Duterte of the Philippines has the right idea to eradicate the pushers to eliminate the source. Hire him to bring a crew over here to clean up the pusher problem and feed the crabs in the bay. Just remember you pass someone everyday in your car coming the other way tripping on drugs will that be the day you don’t make it home alive? But rest assured the drug head, if he survives will be so sorry and tell everyone how sorry they are. Merry Christmas!

  3. Anonymous on December 20, 2016 at 10:41 am

    The sad truth is that over 90% of the junkies will go back to the drug. Thousands of tax dollars being spent per addict and there is less then a 10% chance they will get and stay clean. This is a terrible investment for the overwhelming majority of people that aren’t druggies and pay taxes. Lets face the facts that even if a junkies gets clean the vast majority of them have felony records and will never get a job that will reimburse the money used on them during the time they were an addict. In the end this is a personal and family issue that everyone is trying to make a state and federal one. When will people stop looking to the government and everyone else to solve a problem they created for themselves. They can rationalize their addiction by calling it a disease or blaming the doctors or society but the harsh truth is they took that first pill that didn’t belong to them, or they took more then the doctor prescribed, or took them for longer then the doctor prescribed, they sought out that dealer for their first illegal purchase, they made the decision to switch to heroin and inject that needle for the first time, they made a lot of bad decisions that they and their family now expect everyone else to pay for. Doesn’t seem right to me, I would rather see that money go to a low income child with excellent grades that wants to go to college. Instead it goes to a junkie that is on their 5th try at rehab.

    • Ryan on December 20, 2016 at 5:38 pm

      Well put.

  4. John on December 20, 2016 at 10:53 am

    It’s just going to get worse with the new administration coming. He will slash programs s he and his buddies can rake in more money

    • Anonymous on December 20, 2016 at 1:26 pm

      As far as I am concerned that money is tax money, it doesn’t belong to the rich or the addicts. The fact that either side would feel entitled to that money is disturbing to me. It used to be if you worked hard learned a trade and stayed away from bad things you succeeded in life and could live comfortably. Lately it feels some people want to skip the work hard and party, stay high, then have other people pay to get them clean, pay to give them housing/food, pay to help them learn skills the rest of us learned long ago. On top of all that they are demanding a $12 and hour minimum wage for jobs anyone with 2 hours training could do paid for by the consumers because the business owners won’t take the hit. Basically what I am getting at is if someone can find a way to get these junkies clean without getting into my wallet any further then have at it but if it costs me even $1 more then I am paying now in taxes I am completely against it. Between taxes and the skyrocketing cost of living the middle class is fed up and stretched as thin as we can get.

      • Anonymous on December 20, 2016 at 6:32 pm

        Yeah because it makes sense to whine about losing a dollar for someone’s rehab but be A-okay with the military spending billions of taxpayer dollars to send thousands of US troops to an early death.

        • Anonymous on December 21, 2016 at 8:18 am

          Perfectly fine with military spending. For the most part military spending goes to employees and contractors that employ millions of people who followed the rules and are supporting their families. There are some aspects that could be trimmed but I would much rather see my money go to someone who goes to work everyday then to some loser junkie. What has the junkie done to deserve that money? The money I make off the military as an employee is taxed just like everyone else. I have paid my fair share into the system, can most junkies say the same? What has any of them contributed to society where they think they are entitled to free anything?

          • Anonymous on December 21, 2016 at 4:20 pm

            Which means that you’re perfectly fine with thousands of young Americans (mostly male) being sent to their death, families being ruined, bombing of poor people (children included) in 3rd world countries, rape, climate engineering, stealing resources and all of the other corruption. At one point over $2.2 billion per month was being wasted on those fake wars and who knows how much is still be wasted overseas? The military is not all that it’s cracked up to be. A large percentage of the homeless people out there are military vets. Goes to show how much the military really cares about the sheep who sign up for it.

    • Pat Bowers on December 20, 2016 at 4:10 pm

      it’s called “self inflecting population reduction”.

    • Anonymous on December 20, 2016 at 4:26 pm

      Provide a source for this information please.

  5. Anonymous on December 20, 2016 at 11:46 am

    Immigrants bringing their problems and nonsense to the state. Never was a problem until all of these new scumbags moved to the area.

    • xMosquito on December 20, 2016 at 12:42 pm

      If you are Native American and remember how nice it was before Europeans introduced alcohol, amphetamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepines and opiates–I agree 100%.
      The 9th century was beautiful when America only had hallucinogens to abuse

  6. George on December 20, 2016 at 1:21 pm

    Its very simple, people have a choice. They either choose to do drugs or they don’t. They have to want to help themselves if they want to get clean, nobody can do it for them. Quit calling it a disease, it is not. Its a choice. You wanna live by sword then die by the sword.

    • Anonymous on December 20, 2016 at 6:39 pm

      Not true but true if you looked at the situation from a one-sided perspective. Some babies are born addicted to drugs because their parents were addicts, some doctors prescribe addictive drugs and pharmacies peddle hordes of the stuff. What people are failing to see is that at least 300,000 Americans die annually due to prescription drugs and medical malpractice. More than one person is responsible for this problem, not just the addicts. If you want to find a problem, locate it at the source. If you want to know the truth, follow the money. Plain and simple…

      • Anonymous on December 21, 2016 at 8:34 am

        In the end it is the addict that took that first pill they were not supposed to take. Stop enabling by making excuses. Addicts need to sack up and accept they are the only ones responsible for their predicament. I guess by your logic we should send all the fat people to health spas because of their food addiction and send all the cheaters to a rehab to treat their sex addiction, and send all the smokers away for a 1 week spa to help them kick cigarettes and on and on and on. Where does it stop? Everything I mentioned can potentially kill a person it is just some will kill more quickly then others. The one thing they all have in common is they are all choices people made throughout their lives. We can’t afford to save everyone, it is a harsh reality. If the family wants them saved then they need to foot the bill for saving them.

  7. Anonymous on December 20, 2016 at 1:29 pm

    Much of the heroin is coming from Mexico. Now China is involved with their powerful synthetic equivalent. We will never stop the flow of drugs coming into the country. The states should provide the addicts with drugs at clinics. At lease they won’t need to commit crimes to obtain the stuff. It would be cheaper in the long haul.

    • TonyPP on December 20, 2016 at 6:26 pm

      The states do provide addicts drugs at clinics, their just called something different, taxed and sold by BigPharma

    • Anonymous on December 20, 2016 at 6:43 pm

      No it’s not. One of the reasons why US troops were sent to Afghanistan and Iraq was to grab the opium/heroin/poppy along with the oil and other resources.

      • Anonymous on December 21, 2016 at 8:03 pm

        Geez,and you REALLY believe that? I am so sick of hearing people claim this BS. I spent a tour in Iraq than Afghanistan for a total of 2 years in the US ARMY as an infantryman and I can tell you now, we did NOT take any oil, it never happend.We should have though, recoup some of the money that we lost.

      • Anonymous on December 22, 2016 at 3:38 pm

        Your tinfoil hat is showing. I guess the government was also behind 9/11 in a futile attempt to crash the economy making people more reliant on the government and more depressed so more people would buy opiates that were grabbed up by the military and distributed to the inner cities to strengthen the economy of low income areas and destroy the middle class youth so more of them would join the military as an escape which would enable more of them to grab the opium and oil that is smuggled back to the US in fake silicone but implants. Am I close to your delusion or is your conspiracy more elaborate? Maybe you should take your concerns to the president, he might not be aware of all this bad stuff you obviously must have proof of.

  8. Anon on December 20, 2016 at 1:41 pm

    I cant wait to read the comments about how this is somehow the problem of everyone else. Some how this is all of our fault. The fault relies with the person that makes the choice to use in the first place…

    • Anonymous on December 20, 2016 at 6:50 pm

      The fault also comes from the source and every middle-man involved. The producers of the product, the pharmacies, the doctors who prescribe, the street drug dealer, online dealers, school dealers and then the addict. You blame the one at the bottom of the barrel because it’s the easy thing to do but the fact of the matter is that several sources are responsible for this major drug problem. Everybody from the legal drug dealers to the illegal ones (listed above) are responsible no matter how you spin it.

      • Anon on December 21, 2016 at 1:59 pm

        Your argument is weak. It doesn’t matter who is producing drugs, it doesn’t matter who is selling drugs, what matters is the person using the drugs. If no one used drugs, drug dealers would find another job. Supply and demand. The producers are not the ones creating demand, the users are.

        You are basically arguing that when someone is involved in a drunk driving incident, it isn’t their fault they were driving drunk, but rather, it is the fault of the car manufacturer for producing a vehicle to drive while impaired. It is the fault of the alcohol manufacturer. It is the fault of the gasoline producer for supplying the drunk driver with fuel for his automobile. The people you listed are not blameless, they bear some responsibility, but those that use drugs did so because they wanted to.

  9. Pat Bowers on December 20, 2016 at 4:09 pm

    These people are making great life choices with terrible outcomes. It was their choice/decision to put the drugs into their body.

    This is NOT a disease.

    • Anonymous on December 20, 2016 at 6:55 pm

      They may have chose to use the drug but they didn’t produce the drug or sell it to the mass population.

    • Faith on December 22, 2016 at 10:22 am

      1 – Addiction is a disease. There is no room for debate, it is a fact, proven by science.
      2 – The medical community and big pharma have played a huge role in this epidemic. Again, this is a fact. In my humble opinion, they are no better than drug dealers and should be held accountable.
      3 – Interesting how much money big pharma made on prescription painkillers, only to turn around and throw more drugs out there to supposedly get people off the drugs they supplied in the first place. Prescription painkillers are as bad as heroin. Really the same thing. The difference? Tax money.
      4 – Recovery does happen, without the use of other drugs. Many out there who work hard every day to remain clean and sober. Have nothing but the utmost respect for all addicts in recovery. And there are many. A wonderful community.
      5 – Rehabs do work IF you can get into one, IF you do the work, and IF they keep you long enough. But it’s hard work and you have to really want it. You must work a program after rehab, and for the rest of your life. Be careful of low recovery statistics. There’s a huge NA population out there.
      6 – Talking about statistics. This epidemic is HUGE. Seems we only see the numbers of how many die of overdoses. How about the number of people saved by Narcan? How about those addicted who have never overdosed? This problem is way bigger than the statistics show.
      7 – Imagine this. An addict who won’t go to recovery – that’s the essence of the disease. An addict won’t do anything that will get in the way of using. Then one day, broke, homeless, and no one to turn to, he/she asks for help. Mom and Dad are ecstatic. Finally, their child will get the help they so desperately need. They go directly to the rehab only to be told there are no beds available and to give them a call next week. Sadly, many aren’t around to make that call.

      • Anonymous on December 22, 2016 at 3:50 pm

        Steps 1, 2, and 3 are why it has become such a problem. The worst thing they could do is call it a disease because that takes away any semblance of self accountability and responsibility for the choices the addict made. Here is a fact for you, unless the addict was physically forced to take drugs the addict is responsible for his addiction. Every addict that started with painkillers at some point took more then the doctor prescribed, took them longer then the doctor would allow them, and eventually made the decision to buy them illegally. Due to a surgery I was on pain killers for a ling time, when it was time to quit because the pain was getting better the doctor told me not to just stop. He gave me a 2 week supply to step down. Every day my body was telling me to use more then I was but I didn’t want to be a junkie so with willpower I did what the doctor said and got off them. I am not a strong willed person so if I can do this anyone can and I whole heartedly believe they choose not to because it is a “disease”, or they had a bad week, or this is the doctors fault so I am powerless, or whatever other pansy excuse they can come up with. We all have bad times, during my recovery from surgery I lost my grandmother, father, and uncle. Getting high because of that would be no way to honor their memory. People need to stop making excuses and take responsibility for their lives. If they can’t do that then they need to move to Seattle Washington, they love druggies there.

  10. Pat Bowers on December 20, 2016 at 4:13 pm

    Here is one example to the problem… when Baltimore PD killed a known drug dealer, Baltimore erupted into riots and saying the Freddie was a great member of the community and the police should be ashamed and fired.

    Everyone stands up for the criminal… no one will self police, or call the police about these drug deals.