Maryland Overdose Deaths Up 5.7% from 2020, 612 Deaths From Opioid Abuse Says OOCC Report

Katie Cherrix

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MARYLAND - A quarterly report from the Opioid Operational Command Center reveals a staggering increase in the number of opioid-related deaths in the first three months of 2021. The first quarter of 2021 saw 682 fatal overdoses, a 5.7% increase from last year's first quarter, with 612 overdoses from opioids.

Robin E. Rickard, Acting Executive Director of the OOCC, responds to these numbers, stating that the increase in use and subsequent fatal overdoses were likely caused by the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2020, the number of fatal overdoses involving all substances increased by 17.7 percent annually, increasing from 2,379 deaths reported in 2019 to 2,799. This stark increase was very likely influenced by the pandemic which had a tremendous impact on us all but especially on vulnerable populations, such as people who use drugs. - Robin E. Rickard, OOCC AED

As life begins to return to normal, the OOCC is looking to increase its efforts in combating the deadly opioid crisis plaguing Maryland. On June 24th, Lt. Governor Boyd Rutherford announced the Maryland Stop Overdose Strategy, a $4 million grant fund that would provide communities with the financial means to get overdose numbers down.

2019 saw a decrease in opioid-related deaths since the beginning of the crisis, but that progress was undone by the pandemic due to isolation, depression, and lack of in-person drug counseling as likely culprits. State officials believe that a shift in overdose prevention strategies will bring the numbers down once again.

The Lt. Governor also discussed the racial discrepancies in the number of opioid overdoses. While overdoses among white Maryland residents decreased between 2017 and 2019, deaths increased by over 40% for Black Marylanders. Rutherford responded to this statistic, saying, "This stark difference, presented in data, drives home that the systems that we put in place to reduce opioid-related deaths for everyone is not reaching everyone."
Cocaine Use and Opioid-Related Fatalities
According to the CDC, cocaine was responsible for 1 out of 5 overdose fatalities in 2017. Maryland saw 223 cocaine overdose deaths in the first quarter of 2021, down 6.7% from 2020. Of those 223 cocaine overdose deaths, 200 involved opioids like fentanyl, a common cocaine adulterant.
Opioid Deaths by County
Each Maryland county reported opioid-related overdose deaths in the first quarter of this year. However, some counties saw far more deaths than others. According to the OOCC's report, Baltimore City was hit the hardest, clocking a heartbreaking 227 deaths. Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County saw 89 and 57 deaths respectively, with all three jurisdictions making up over 60% of opioid-related fatalities in the state.
The Demographics of the Opioid Crisis
In quarter one of 2021, Marylanders between ages 45 and 54 saw the biggest jump in fatalities. Males continued to account for the majority of opioid-related deaths, making up over 70% of deaths in Q1 2021. Black Marylanders saw a drastic increase in fatal opioid overdoses in the first three months of 2021.
Resources for the Opioid Epidemic and Drug Addiction
Maryland State Library Resource Center

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