Direct action needed to curb Eastern Shore opioid problem

By Alaina Perdon
Elm Staff Writer

Like many places across the United States, Maryland has found itself in the grips of an opioid crisis for several decades.

The problem is only worsening with time.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overdose deaths rose 21% in Maryland from April 2020 to April 2021, amounting to almost 3,000 individuals.

The Eastern Shore is not exempt from the opioid crisis. According to a report published in The Baltimore Sun, the shore saw a 16% increase in opioid-related deaths from 2020 to 2021. The rural nature of the region may contribute to the growing issue.

“The effects of the opioid epidemic are more intense in rural communities where employment opportunities are often limited and isolation is pervasive,” National Institute of Food and Agriculture Researcher Ahlishia Shipley said. “Between 1999 and 2015, opioid death rates in rural areas have quadrupled among those 18-to-25-year-olds and tripled for females.”

Intervention programs specifically tailored to the social environment of the Eastern Shore are necessary to curb the amount of overdose deaths each year.

In 2015, the I Wish I Knew campaign was launched as part of Maryland’s Opioid Misuse Prevention Program to raise awareness and provide resources regarding opioid abuse in the Mid-Shore region, which consists of Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s, and Talbot counties.

According to the MD OMPP Strategy Plan, the Mid-Shore region lists lack of awareness, social availability of opioids, and lack of communication between patients and drug providers as three contributing factors to the persistent opioid problem.

Proposed remedies include increased community awareness of available treatment facilities, education on proper drug disposal, and training for doctors and pharmacists, according to the document.

In discussions of “beating” the opioid crisis, the commonly proposed solution seems to be increasing awareness, but this phrase is ambiguous and does not provide a concrete course of action to follow.

Between drug intervention programs in schools and road signs broadcasting annual opioid deaths in each county, the Eastern Shore is well aware of its own opioid problem. The goal now should be reducing the factors contributing to opioid abuse and opioid-related fatalities.

“There are steps we can take now as a state to reduce overdose deaths. In particular, we should establish overdose prevention sites, which will help prevent deaths and improve health and public safety,” Vice President of Policy and Communications for Behavioral Health System Baltimore Adrienne Breidenstine said. “These overdose prevention sites not only save lives but also can provide a pathway to treatment they need.”

According to Breidenstine, approximately 26,000 people received substance use disorder services last year in Baltimore.

According to a briefing by Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, overdose prevention sites are facilities in which people can use controlled substances under trained supervision. The sites provide sterile needles, health care services, and referrals to drug treatment centers in an effort to reduce the harm associated with drug use.

“The concept [of overdose prevention sites] confronts the reality that people are using drugs,” Johns Hopkins Assistant Scientist in Health, Behavior, and Society Dr. Ju Park said. “And we’re saying that, in these places, there would be medical professionals and trained staff observing them. Ultimately, that does a lot of public health good.”

In addition to implementing programs to prevent overdose deaths, actions should be taken to mitigate external factors that contribute to drug use, such as untreated mental illnesses. This is especially important on the Eastern Shore, where the isolated environment can exacerbate mental health struggles.

Increased access to mental health services, including financial assistance for those in need, could provide a safer alternative to “self-medicating,” as well as provide resources for those who may already be struggling with addiction.

Opioid awareness on the Eastern Shore has undoubtedly increased in recent years; however, the problem itself has far from gone away. Concrete plans and programming are needed to both thwart opioid abuse and prevent opioid-related deaths.

One thought on “Direct action needed to curb Eastern Shore opioid problem

  1. Maryland’s growing number of overdose deaths is a tragedy that is all too common across the U.S., where the number of annual fatalities holds the world record by a long shot. I am impressed that this article promotes initiatives that have proven to save lives elsewhere, but are continually rejected by our lawmakers, such as Overdose Prevention Sites. So far, we keep doing the same things and expecting a different outcome. I also applaud your call for mental heath interventions as we have long imprisoned those who need the most support. It’s not an ‘opioid’ crisis; it’s an overdose crisis, and the biggest problem is prohibition, a factor that is frequently overlooked. Thank you for addressing this issue with strategies that can make a difference.

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