Howard County saw a 43% increase in opioid related deaths in 2020 compared to 2019, part of national and statewide trend as the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated opioid and substance misuse. There was a 2.6% decrease in non-fatal overdoses compared to the previous year. Previously, Howard County noted a continued decrease in both non-fatal and fatal overdoses from 2017 to 2019.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly highlighted the disparities in our healthcare system, including the need for greater resources to continue combatting substance use disorders,” said Howard County Executive Calvin Ball. “The increase in fatal overdoses is a trend that we’re seeing across the country this year, and it’s vital that in 2021 we pursue more solutions to ensure that those facing substance misuse are able to receive the care they need, even amid a pandemic.”

Howard County continues to follow recommendations to combat substance use disorders amid the pandemic, including:

  • Ensuring access to care for patients with an opioid use disorder
  • Protecting patients with pain
  • Harm reduction to help prevent overdose and spread of infectious disease

Last month, the Howard County Health Department introduced a new RV to expand its Harm Reduction and Syringe Services programming. A video of the RV that explains the available services, featuring Peer Support Specialist Jack Matthews, is available here. The services that will be available through the Harm Reductions Services Program include:

  • HIV/Hepatitis & STI testing and support services
  • Narcan/Overdose response training and kits
  • Safe sex supplies
  • Peer Support staff access
  • Wound care
  • Harm Reduction kits/safer use supplies
  • Referrals to medical services/social service agencies

“The opioid crisis still grips our community and the pandemic has made the situation worse,” said Dr. Maura Rossman, Howard County Health Officer. “We are deeply saddened by the lives lost to overdose in the last year. Our goal is to help prevent overdose and save lives by providing resources and services to those who are still in active use or to those ready to make a change.”

In his first year, Ball worked to address the opioid epidemic by developing solutions and identifying gaps in the service delivery system, which included crisis services. In May 2019, he opened Howard House, the first County-owned treatment facility for individuals on the path to recovery, which is one component of a comprehensive strategy for addressing the opioid epidemic. In December 2019, Grassroots opened the “New Beginnings Crisis Stabilization Center” so that individuals in need of a referral for substance use disorder treatment can receive immediate screening and intervention services so that they do not experience a delay in entry into residential or outpatient treatment.

Next steps include the construction of a new, residential treatment center through a first-of-its-kind partnership in the state between the County and Delphi Behavioral Health Group. Howard County continues to enhance family support through navigation services and integrate substance use treatment within mental health programs to address the high rate of co-occurrence. With these programs, the goal is to make sure that residents seeking treatment will be able to remain here in Howard County.

“In Howard County, we truly have a multi-faceted approach, in which public safety works closely with the health department and partner organizations to fight this ongoing crisis,” said Police Chief Lisa Myers. “Our first responders are on the front lines of this fight every day. The goal of our collaborative intervention efforts is to stop the cycle of drug misuse and death in our communities.”

“The pandemic has affected our community in a multitude of ways, however, our commitment to overdose prevention and response remains a priority,” said Fire Chief William Anuszewski. “We continue to operate several programs including naloxone training, mobile integrated community health services, providing patients and their families with ‘leave-behind’ kits when responding to an overdose and I fully support Executive Ball’s multi-agency coordination to provide the best resources to those in need.”

Howard County’s lawsuit formally suing opioid makers and distributors in Circuit Court is currently pending before a federal judge in the Northern District of Ohio.

In 2019, Howard County also committed to providing 24/7 crisis services at Grassroots Crisis Intervention, a Narcan mailing program to overcome healthcare barriers, extended outpatient services, proper emergency room referrals to peer recovery specialists, funding for behavioral health navigators, and continuing to support naloxone training and distribution across Howard County.

“Our community, like others, is suffering from the compounding of the coronavirus pandemic and the opioid epidemic, but there is hope,” said Grassroots Executive Director Dr. Mariana Izraelson. “Howard County agencies are working together to save lives and restore the stability of families. The SOR program is a 23-hour substance use disorder crisis stabilization program. Anyone that is experiencing a SUD crisis is able to call our 24 hour hotline or walk in 24/7 and work with a multidisciplinary team. The program offers screening, assessment, brief intervention, counseling, nursing assessment, medical evaluation, medication assisted therapy with buprenorphine and referral to treatment with a warm hand off. We are excited to continue our partnership with Howard County to support our community members who are struggling with opioid addiction.”

For support on substance use disorders, please visit: https://www.howardcountymd.gov/HoCoOpioidHelp.

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Scott E

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