In 2003, Barbara Allen of Howard County, Maryland lost her son Jim to both heroin and alcohol overdose after battling a substance abuse disorder for 22 years. She’s also lost others and as a result, she signs her emails with the names of family members she lost to drug addiction.
Barbara stated, “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 die.”
Barbara is only one of many individuals who’ve lost people to the heroin epidemic. In fact, according to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, heroin-related deaths have tripled between 2011 and 2015, rising from 247 to 748.
Maryland has sadly earned the title of being the fifth-worst state in the country for heroin abuse and death – and experts say, it’s likely only going to get worse.
Many heroin addicts don’t start out that way. In fact, many start because they’ve been prescribed some kind of opioid painkiller (such as OxyContin, Morphine, Percocet, etc.) due to some kind of severe injury or pain. Those with a genetic predisposition instantly acquire the disease of addiction upon first use because it touches the pleasure center of the brain a certain way, creating an intense burst of euphoria for a short period of time. Patients begin to chase the feeling and either their medication isn’t doing it anymore and they need something stronger or their prescription runs out. That’s when they turn to heroin, the cheaper, stronger alternative.
There’s no doubt that people in almost all demographic groups are becoming addicted and dying from heroin and opioid overdoses. Delegate Brett Wilson, R-Hagerson of Washington County, Maryland who also served on the Governor’s Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force confirmed this is true in Maryland.
Dr. Yngvild Olsen, medical director of an outpatient program in Baltimore said, “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.”
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that’s 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin. Over the last several years, the country (Maryland included) has seen a spike in Fentanyl’s popularity. According to Olsen, the president of the Maryland Association for Treatment of Opioid Dependence, it’s likely because Fentanyl is inexpensive, takes less time to create and can easily be blended into heroin.
Because of Fentanyl’s potency, less of the drug is required to garner the same euphoric effect as heroin. This makes people even more susceptible to an overdose. According to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Fentanyl related deaths have nearly doubled during the first 6 months of 2016 compared to the same period in 2015.
Race and Gender Issues Related to Opioid Abuse
Over the last 5 years, arrests in Maryland have shown 4000 to 5000 more individuals between the ages of 30 and 24 getting arrested for drug abuse violations than those in an older age group of individuals between 25 and 29. The majority of heroin and drug related hospitalizations however, fall between the ages of 45 and 64. According to a Capital News Service analysis performed in Maryland, 14,843 individuals between the ages of 50 and 54 were hospitalized due to opioid-related substance use disorders from 2013 to the beginning of 2016. This is more than any other age group within the same time period.
On a more positive note, data suggested that drug use is actually declining in middle and high schools. While nobody knows for sure why, Hartford County’s Office of Drug Control Policy speculates that this may be due to renewed education efforts on drug abuse.
According to Maryland State Police, 88043 blacks and 53,125 whites were arrested for drug abuse related violations. However, according to Capital News Service analysis of Maryland hospital data, 60,462 whites and 41,918 blacks were hospitalized between 2013 and the beginning of 2016 for opioid related substance use disorders.
Heroin and Opioids on the Rise
The popularity of heroin and opioids in Maryland (and across the nation) is no doubt increasing. Likewise, the number of heroin and drug overdose deaths in 2015 outnumber any other year and it’s only going to be worse when we see the report for 2016.
Tim Cameron, the sheriff in St. Mary’s County and a member of the Governor’s Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force in 2015 said, “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.”
According to Cameron, when the heroin epidemic started, the majority of people dying from heroin overdoses were young, white and middle or upper class. However, it soon spread to include almost all socioeconomic and demographic groups.
Sergeant Johnny Murray with the Hagerstown Police Department said, “It pretty much affects everyone,”
Despite the increase of opioid and heroin use and overdose related deaths in Maryland, arrests have steadily declined since 2010. For example, 12,551 individuals were arrested for possession of opioids, cocaine and/or other drugs in 2010, only 9,618 individuals were arrested for similar issues in 2014.
There is also evidence that more women are using heroin and opioids than men. Dan Alioto, the commander of vice narcotics for St. Mary’s County said, “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.”
Loss of Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)
With the election of President Donald Trump, the Affordable Care Act (known as Obamacare) is in danger of being eliminated. In fact, Donald Trump discussed the issue about a month before Election day. He said during an October 15th New Hampshire campaign stop, “A wall will not only keep out dangerous cartels and criminals, but it will also keep out the drugs and heroin poisoning our youth.”
During his speech, he detailed a three-pronged plan for fighting against the addiction epidemic. This included aggressively prosecuting drug dealers, closing shipping loopholes for drugs and encouraging the approval of drugs that fight against addiction such as Suboxone and Narcan (Naloxone).
In July 2016, President Barack Obama signed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) into law. 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.
Olsen stated, “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.”
If Trump honors his promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), coverage for many Americans in recovery and treatment who were previously insured could be eliminated, that is, unless he institutes an alternative program. See “What Donald Trump’s Presidency Means for Addiction, Recovery and Drug Treatment“.
The 21st Century Cures Act – $500 Million a Year for Drug Treatment
On December 7, 2016 The United States Senate passed the 21st Century Cures Act and sent the bill to President Barack Obama who signed it into law on a Tuesday. The $1 billion bill includes $500 million a year to assist each state in treating people addicted to opioids and preventing drug abuse.
Allen, who founded the organization James’ Place to raise money for recovery services after her son’s death called the act a “huge step forward” and stated, “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.”
In order to help government officials develop a better response to heroin and opioid addiction, counties have started using state money to hire heroin coordinators from police departments to analyze data according to 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,” Glenn said at the legislature’s Nov. 2 meeting of the Joint Committee on Behavioral Health and Opioid Use Disorders.
Carin Miller, founder of Maryland heroin Awareness Advocates and whose son is recovering from a heroin addiction and whose husband is battling opioid addiction feels strongly that the government needs to do more than address the addiction epidemic. “It needs to be declared a national emergency”, she said.
Addiction is a disease although many still seem to struggle with this. Allen feels that advocates would get their “fair share of those donor dollars” if more people properly saw addiction as a disease. 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.”
Written and Published by William Charles – Publisher of Kill the Heroin Epidemic Nationwide™, Heroin News and the National Alliance of Addiction Treatment Centers (NAATC)
We are a community for recovering heroin addicts providing support and recommending the best treatments and clinics to people interested in conquering their addiction.