National Opioid Crisis Demands Action

By Brooke Schultz

Imagine how many people can fit on a plane. Then imagine that plane crashing in the state of Maryland.

That’s how Tim Dove, local addictions authority of Kent County, posed the opioid epidemic to me while I was writing a story on its pervasiveness in the area for Kent County News over the summer.

“That would make every imaginable newspaper in the state of Maryland,” he said at the time. “That would make every one. But yet, that many people have died due to overdose death—85 percent of that, maybe higher, were directly related to opioids, but you don’t hear about that. If a 747 crashes, it would make every newspaper. This is that epidemic that nobody wants to talk about.”

In 2016, 1,856 opioid-related deaths were reported in Maryland; a 750+ jump from 2015. Nationwide, there were about 60,000 deaths.

Things perpetuate when we don’t talk about them. By talking about it, we shine a light on it.

Since that interview in June, it seems that people want to talk about the epidemic: President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a health emergency, although he did not direct funds to deal with it, according to the New York Times article “Trump Declares Opioid Crisis a ‘Health Emergency’ but Requests No Funds,” published on Oct. 26. Under a statewide standing order updated on June 1, Narcan, or naloxone, a drug that blocks and reverses the effect of an overdose, no longer requires a prescription.

Closest to home, Gov. Larry Hogan signed into effect several bills targeting opioid use—including the Start Talking Maryland Act, which requires public schools to up their opioid education and train individuals to administer Narcan.

If we start with the education component, we’re on the right track: we’re opening the conversation, which is something more conducive to what Dove was talking about. According to, research-based programs “have been rationally designed based on current scientific evidence, rigorously tested, and shown to produce positive results” and, when implemented, show a reduction in use.

By talking about the effects of opioids, by creating educational programming for students—especially those in middle and high school who are more likely to already be abusing drugs, according to—we can stop the problem before it starts.

We can only talk about things for so long though. Once the conversation stops, action has to start.

One way in which this was the latter part of Hogan’s bill—where individuals can train in and administer Narcan to those experiencing an overdose. Although this is required for public schools, Washington College had stepped into the agreement along with 12 other private colleges in Maryland. When reading an article about it from the Daily Record, a comment at the bottom caught my eye:

“Yes—give these students that have nothing better going on in their lives this life saving drug naloxone—then—show them the door—never to return,” the commenter wrote. “Some other college perhaps one that encourages students that can neither read, write nor comprehend beyond the grade school level will no doubt welcome them. What does it truly mean in the 21st century to have had a college degree? Very little, I fear.”

This was a non-sequitur to me. The act does not mandate students each get a 4oz container of Narcan in the envelope with their key and student handbook at the start of the academic year. It allows the officials on campus—individuals like those in Public Safety or Health Services—to carry and administer Narcan should any person on campus experience an overdose.

There’s the argument that this enables drug use; people will overdose only to overdose again. But it is illogical to me that it isn’t worth saving someone’s life, giving them the ability to go through treatment and recover from their addiction, at the risk that they may use again.

In addition to education, drop-off boxes to discard unused medicine have cropped up throughout the country. Kent County has its own 24-hour box located at the Sheriff’s Office at 104 Vickers Dr., Unit B. The box, which is completely anonymous, allows for residents to drop off medications to decrease the risk of abuse of previously prescribed medications.

Something as small as this can make a big impact. I can remember back to high school when my friend had her wisdom teeth pulled and when she was prescribed pain killers, one dentist told her to “save one for a rainy day” if she had any left over. No. Don’t do that.

It’s instances like this—an over-prescription of opioids to relieve pain—that contribute to the opioid crisis, which is now more deadly than car accidents, according to Frontline. In the same article, it is stated that 12 states—though not including Maryland—have more prescriptions than people. Acknowledging the over-prescription isn’t enough; we must set a new standard, as the Center for Disease Control is striving to do through their release of new recommendations to combat the epidemic.

Definitive actions like these—while being careful not to overly criminalize drug addicts and drug dealers—must be taken. If they don’t work, we learn, we fix them, we try again. But we can’t keep calling a problem a problem without trying to stop it.

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