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Maryland, like much of the country, finds itself in the midst of a heroin and prescription opioid epidemic. In 2016, Maryland’s Governor Larry Hogan signed into law the Opioid-Associated Disease Prevention and Outreach Act. The law is a harm-reduction strategy that aims to stem the spread of infectious diseases among intravenous drug users. A main provision of the new law is that residents of Maryland will have improved access to sterile syringes and needle exchanges.
The new law, which is being referred to as the Syringe Services Programs Bill, is a direct response to rising rates of HIV in Maryland. Recently, Maryland ranked second in the nation for new rates of HIV infections per every 100,000 residents. In 2012, of new cases of HIV infection, 31 percent were in the 20-29 age bracket. That same year, 22 percent of those newly infected were male and 26 percent were female.
These rates evidence that Maryland government officials are looking at a serious two-pronged problem, not only an opiate and prescription opioid epidemic but also a surge in HIV rates. It is anticipated that the Syringe Services Programs Bill will directly help the latter problem. Stemming the rising tide of drug abuse will have to rely on a host of government, private, and nonprofit agency efforts, such as making drug treatment services available to those in need.
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A review of some facts and statistics pertaining to Maryland illuminates the reality of drug abuse in this state. According to a White House report, the rate of use of illicit substances in Maryland is slightly lower than the national average (7 percent of residents versus 8 percent nationwide). According to a survey, 3.23 percent of Maryland residents who use illicit drugs use drugs other marijuana (or marijuana plus other drugs). The national average is slightly higher (3.58 percent).
Despite these lower use rates, the rate of death directly related to drug use is higher than the national average. In 2007, 807 individuals met a fatal end as a direct result of drug use. This number is higher than the rate of death associated with car accidents (675) and firearms (678). The national rate of drug-involved deaths is 12.7 per every 100,000 people while the rate is 14.4 per every 100,000 in Maryland.
Like other states in the Northeast, heroin is the number one most commonly treated drug of abuse in treatment centers in Maryland. According to information collected from rehab centers in 2010, the next most common drugs of abuse for which treatment is sought are marijuana, opioids, opiates other than heroin, and cocaine. In this survey year, there were fewer than approximately 400 admissions for each of these drug types: PCP, hallucinogens, stimulants, sedatives, and inhalants. There does not appear to be concise data available that reflects the number of drug treatment admissions for a more recent year.
An 2014, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene published the findings of a survey that collected information on the number of alcohol- or drug-involved deaths in the state from 2007 through 2014.
The survey considered the following drugs of abuse: heroin, prescription opioids, cocaine, benzodiazepines (e.g., Xanax, Klonopin, and Valium), fentanyl, and alcohol. The following is a sample of the summary findings:
These statistics reflect the threat of death that each drug of abuse reviewed poses. However, media and government authorities tend to single out heroin, in part because it claims the most lives and can have a devastating impact on all who use it.
The Baltimore Sun, in its coverage of the heroin problem in Maryland, interviewed affected individuals. A person’s account of their addiction gives even greater meaning to statistics and facts on drug abuse. A mother recounts her story of losing her son to heroin in an interview with the Baltimore Sun. Bonny Mooney’s son had become addicted to heroin but made a recovery through rehab programs and prison initiatives. Mooney’s son was able to go back to work as an electrician but, as she tells it, he used his first paycheck to buy heroin and he died of an overdose. He was 28 years old.
Mooney also shared with the Sun that people who want to help a loved one seek recovery often have a hard time understanding the ins and outs of the rehab process. Officials in Maryland are aware that the public may not have adequate information about drug recovery, and this deficiency in turn can contribute to under-treatment. Several initiatives are in the works. In addition to improvements in the distribution of sterile syringes, the state is working to expand the availability of naloxone, a drug that can potentially reverse an opioid overdose. Maryland is also continuing to work on expanding access to substance abuse programs and mental health services in general.
The list of harms associated with substance abuse is long. Although a drug overdose tops the list, it certainly keeps company with another harmful possible outcome: a car accident. All 50 states have drunk and drugged driving laws. According to a White House report, the Annotated Code of Maryland: Transportation Section 21-902 makes it illegal for any person in the state to operate a vehicle when impaired by a drug. Maryland does not follow the per se standard, which typically makes prosecution easier. The hope is that these laws serve as a deterrent, but research shows that a driver usually drives drunk 80 times before the first arrest.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is one of the most diligent nonprofits in America when it comes to advocating for its cause and educating the public. As MADD shares, in 2016, Maryland passed a law that requires all convicted drunk or drugged drivers to get an ignition interlock device in order to operate their car. This device stops the car from turning on if the driver fails the internal test (usually a breathalyzer type test). The hope is that this legal requirement will stem the high number of alcohol-involved crashes in the state. According to the most current data available, in one year, there were 130 fatal crashes in Maryland that involved alcohol. This number represents 29.4 percent of all deaths that directly resulted from a car accident. Compared to the prior year, the rate went up 7.8 percent.
When it comes to getting help for drug abuse, there are different organizations and individuals that can provide supportive, professional services. Stated broadly, state authorities, private agencies, and nonprofit organizations can either make necessary referrals or provide addiction treatment services directly. The Maryland Department of Mental Health and Hygiene provides the public with guidance on how to connect to rehab services in the state.
The state sets forth the type of services that are available to the public, which are as follows:
At present, there is no accurate tally of the number of public or private drug rehab centers in Maryland. However, individuals who are searching for a private rehab center in the state can use any number of search engines, such as one provided by the informational source Psychology Today.
Nonprofit groups work at the community level and are funded mainly by government grants and private donations. The Maryland Community Services Locator can help individuals to find nonprofits and other organizations that provide useful guidance and services. There are also region-specific sites, such as Southern Maryland Online that can help individuals to locate and learn about rehab centers. In some cases, a person may want to work with an interventionist. The Association of Intervention Specialists maintains a directory of its members.
Individuals who are experiencing substance abuse who decide to start the recovery process may find themselves pressed to quickly find a rehab center. For this reason, it can be a good strategy for family members or other concerned individuals to get familiar with the recovery process and local or out-of-state options even before the person who is using drugs decides to seek help. Addiction professionals understand that individuals who are entering the recovery process, and their family members, may not have a lot of insight into how it works. This is exactly why many rehab centers and organizations help clients navigate the process and provide education every step of the way. There is guidance available at every level of the recovery process.