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Opioid Crisis Demands Action

August 25, 2017 By: Carmela Coyle

The Maryland Department of Health has reported that drug- and alcohol-related deaths continued to climb in 2017 – the 550 deaths in the first quarter of 2017 represent a 44 percent increase from the same period last year. The need for effective measures to mitigate the crisis is becoming even more pressing.

Of the 550 deaths, 372 (a 137 percent increase from the same period last year) were related to fentanyl, a potent opioid that is often mixed with heroin.

Already, hospitals are taking steps to combat these tragedies, from linking nonfatal overdose patients to community-based treatment, to enhanced screenings for substance abuse, to the expansion of the use of naloxone. But more needs to be done.

That’s why improving Maryland’s behavioral health treatment system remains one of the hospital field’s primary legislative goals for the upcoming 2018 General Assembly session. Among the issues that need to be addressed: a shortage of qualified behavioral health practitioners, limited community-based resources, unstable funding, and crowded hospital emergency departments.

Ahead of the legislative session, MHA’s Behavioral Health Task Force, composed of hospital leaders and behavioral health experts, expects to release its report containing concrete, actionable recommendations that can lead to a comprehensive, integrated behavioral health treatment system. This report, the result of more than two years of work by the task force, could serve as the foundation for legislation that will have a meaningful impact on the behavioral health crisis.

In releasing the overdose death data, Clay Stamp, executive director of the state’s Opioid Operational Command Center offered these thoughts: “The number of Marylanders impacted by this crisis continues to drive our resolve to manage this epidemic as a statewide emergency. In order for us to be successful, we must be united in this fight and steadfast in our commitment to partner with others in efforts to prevent, protect, and treat those in need.”

Maryland’s hospitals stand ready.