Gov. Wes Moore (D) issued a proclamation Thursday recognizing International Overdose Awareness Day in Maryland, as state and federal officials alike take a particular focus on opioids such as fentanyl that contribute to a rising number of overdose deaths.
Moore urged Marylanders to support people in their lives struggling with substance use, according to a press release Thursday from Maryland’s Opioid Operational Command Center.
“I encourage everyone to reach out to individuals in their lives if they are struggling with substance use,” Moore said in a written statement. “The first step for saving lives is meeting people where they are with compassion, respect, and love above all else.”
According to Maryland’s Overdose Dashboard, there were 2,590 fatal overdoses in Maryland in 2022.
Flags were lowered to half-staff Thursday and the Governor’s mansion in Annapolis was lit purple to recognize individuals who have lost their lives to drug-related overdoses, according to the Opioid Command Center.
The issue of overdoses, particularly opioids, has been an ongoing concern for communities and officials at the local, state and federal levels for several years.
“Behind every person lost to an overdose is a family, a loved one, an entire community who is left to endure irreparable pain and heartbreak,” said Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller (D). “In order to address this issue comprehensively, we must break down the stigma and shame surrounding mental and behavioral health disorders. By having open and honest conversations as Marylanders, we can eliminate the barriers that prevent individuals who are struggling from asking for help.”
The Governor’s proclamation coincided with an announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that states, as well as local jurisdictions from 49 states, were awarded a total of $279 million in grants from Overdose Data to Action (OD2A) funding.
The Maryland Department of Health and the Baltimore County Department of Health are among jurisdictions receiving funds from this initiative, although the CDC website did not specify the amount to be received by each awardee.
The CDC noted a study out of the Thursday Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report which indicates that an increasing percentage of overdose deaths are due to counterfeit pills.
“The proliferation of counterfeit pills, which are not manufactured by pharmaceutical companies, but are typically made to look like legitimate pharmaceutical pills (frequently oxycodone or alprazolam), is complicating the illicit drug market and potentially contributing to these deaths,” the report says.
“Counterfeit pills often contain illicitly manufactured fentanyls (IMFs), illicit benzodiazepines (e.g., bromazolam, etizolam, and flualprazolam), or other illicit drugs, and can increase overdose risk because the pills might expose persons to drugs they did not intend to use,” it adds.
The grant funds are to help improve current overdose prevention programs in state and local jurisdictions and help close gaps in prevention activities, according to the CDC’s website.
The CDC identified steps that can help reduce the number of overdose deaths, including more education about the risks of substance use, more access to harm reduction methods and reducing the stigma associated with people seeking help for substance use disorders.
“The drug overdose crisis in the United States is constantly changing and complex and is claiming the lives of our parents, children, siblings, colleagues, and friends,” said Grant Baldwin, director of the Division of Overdose Prevention at the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
The CDC’s prevention steps echo recent concerns raised by state and county officials who also are trying to address the ever-changing opioid crisis and other overdose deaths.
“Overdose affects all Maryland communities, and every community has their own specific needs,” Emily Keller, Special Secretary of Opioid Response in Maryland, said in a written statement.
She continued: “Partnerships between state and local agencies and community organizations are the bedrock of Maryland’s overdose response framework, and it is imperative that we continue to foster collaboration as we work to save lives.”
“Opioids, such as fentanyl, can cause slowed or stopped breathing in the event of an overdose, which can be life threatening,” according to the Opioid Operational Command Center.
“Marylanders are encouraged to know the signs of an overdose, which include a person’s body going limp; pale or blue skin, lips, and fingernails; loss of consciousness; depressed breathing; and choking or gurgling noises,” the press release advises.
Those who are responding to a suspected opioid crisis are encouraged by the state agency to administer overdose reversal medicine called naloxone and to call 911 for help.
Under Maryland’s Good Samaritan Law, those who call 911 due to a suspected overdose cannot be arrested for possessing or using a controlled substance.