Maryland overdose deaths rose by 2.6% during 2020’s first three months compared with the same time span in 2019. 561 people died of opioid-related overdoses in the first three months of 2020. This was 14 more than during the same time span in 2019. 2019 had seen fewer overdose deaths in the state than in 2018.
Public health officials suspect the COVID-19 pandemic has caused people with drug addictions to become more vulnerable to overdosing. A rise in deaths is usually seen alongside a rise in overdose-related emergency room and paramedic visits. State officials said both of those declined in 2020’s first three months.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said he’s aware of the possibility that COVID-19 is responsible for the rise in deaths.
“While it is simply too early to understand the precise effect that the coronavirus pandemic has had on [the] state’s war against substance use, I can assure you that we recognize the threat,” he said.
Unemployment, economic stress and isolation caused by COVID-19 are three important risk factors for substance abuse, according to state officials.
Steve Schuh, the executive director of Maryland’s Opioid Operational Command Center, said his state is now dealing with “a substance use crisis that has taken a new form.”
Schuh released an “action plan” in response, which includes plans to fund a public service announcement about substance abuse problems and mental health risks during COVID-19.
“We hope to begin simultaneously stanching the immediate fallout from the pandemic and laying the groundwork for the months and years ahead,” Schuh said.
Fentanyl was involved in 93.2% of the 2020 deaths. This is a larger share than was seen in 2019. Fentanyl has replaced heroin as the leading cause of opioid deaths in recent years.
Non-opioid overdose deaths were also up during the first three months of 2020 in Maryland. Cocaine-related deaths rose by 15% and methamphetamine-related deaths rose by 58%. State officials said the “vast majority” of these deaths were of people who were also on opioids.
Purdue Pharma, the makers of Oxycontin, is going through bankruptcy, and addiction and overdose victims and their loved ones have until July 30 to file claims against Purdue in bankruptcy court. Purdue has pleaded guilty in federal court to understating the addiction risk of Oxycontin. Purdue’s marketing of Oxycontin is arguably largely responsible for America’s opioid crisis.