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Local health leaders talk overdose deaths, how to save more lives

Posted at 10:46 PM, Feb 16, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-16 23:11:15-05

COLUMBIA, Md. — Thousands of families are mourning the lives of Marylanders claimed by overdoses in 2022.

WMAR-2 News sat down with two local health leaders to talk about the state of addiction in the state, and trying to pave a path forward for those suffering.

"We’re a little bit concerned about 2022 and where we are right now," said Dr. Maura Rossman, Health Officer for Howard County.

Overdose deaths are back up in Howard County after declining a few years ago.

"Between 2021 and 2022, which we’re still collecting data, we’re now seeing a 60% increase in our fatal overdoses," said Rossman. "Not where we want to be, and obviously despite our best efforts, we still have work to do."

Rossman says the spike might be because of other substances being added to the drugs like veterinarian tranquilizers, which make it more likely someone overdoses and dies.

Rossman stresses Narcan, which can help reverse an overdose, is a key component in reducing the county's number.

"There’s still a lot more work to do, that can be done," said Andrea Pappas, Bureau Director of Behavioral Health for the Harford County Health Department.

As Pappas points out, Harford's recent worst numbers essentially leveled off. Also, state public data shows from late 2021 to 2022 the amount of non-fatal emergency visits was down almost 14%.

Pappas credits local initiatives with chipping away at those numbers.

"We saw a huge increase, and we’ve kind of now seen this slight plateau," Pappas added, "so it’s definitely encouraging, but it’s - we still have a lot that can be done and needs to be done."

Harford County, along with Howard, encourage residents to get Narcan training.

"I would ask everyone to be aware that this disease can affect anyone and everyone," Rossman added, "and there is treatment and health available."

Maryland had the sixth-highest overdose death rate in America in 2020.