Opioid Epidemic Not Major in Prince George’s, Doctor Says

According to the Maryland state government, many heroin users in the state are people who became addicted to prescription narcotics following an injury or surgery, then begin to use cheaper illicit heroin when they can no longer obtain prescriptions for legal opioids. (Courtesy of the Maryland state government)

President Donald Trump has declared the opioid epidemic a nationwide public health emergency, and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has now announced a similar designation for his state.

Douglas Mayo, who oversees the emergency departments in three hospitals in Prince George’s County, said the spread of opioids isn’t as highly prevalent in that jurisdiction.

Mayo, who spends most of his time with patients at Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly, said the two main drugs abused in the county are synthetic marijuana and PCP, also known as angel dust, that cause people to hallucinate and alter the awareness of a person’s surroundings. Opioids include the illegal drug heroin and prescribed painkillers such as oxycodone and morphine.

“There’s definitely [an opioid crisis] in Maryland, but not as bad in Prince George’s County like some areas such as Baltimore City,” said Mayo, who worked in Baltimore before he relocated to Prince George’s in 2012.

Mayo briefly explained in an interview Friday, Oct. 27 he hasn’t noticed an increase in patients who overdose, or present withdrawal symptoms, on opioids and other drugs. He also didn’t distinguish whether Black patients have been affected more than other racial groups.

“I haven’t necessarily seen an uptick from one race versus the other,” he said. “It’s a crisis for people who are in the prime of their lives. It is only takes one overdose that can potentially kill you.”

For future drug treatment, Mayo said patients are referred to their primary care doctor. Since he primarily works at Prince George’s Hospital, he said those without health insurance can receive medical advice next door at the Cheverly Health Center.

Some people who suffer overdoses or withdrawals and treated by emergency medical services in the field may refuse to

To provide more help for those in the county who may be addicted to opioids, the state of Maryland awarded more than $4 million in grants to all 24 jurisdictions and Baltimore City, which received the most at $1.2 million. Some of the statewide funding includes outreach campaigns, recovery services and support local initiatives.

The Prince George’s County allocation ranks as the fifth-highest grant at nearly $190,000 to promote an education and stigma reduction campaign, conduct community outreach, train staff and enhance opioid treatment.

Another stipulation for the money will go toward distribution of naloxone, a prescribed drug used to reverse opioid overdoses.

According to a statement issued Tuesday, Oct. 31 by the Prince George’s County Health Department, officials have trained more than 1,000 people to administer naloxone. This fiscal year, the drug will be distributed to 200 public school nurses who completed a training program.

A list of treatment centers for those suffering from drug abuse can found through the county’s behavior health services at https://www.princegeorgescountymd.gov/DocumentCenter/View/17499.

Meanwhile, Walgreens announced Oct. 24 the company will stock a nasal spray form of naloxone called Narcan at more than 8,000 stores nationwide.

The company’s announcement came two days before Trump’s public health declaration and the thousands of people who’ve died from opioids. The National Institute of Drug Abuse estimated 64,000 people died from drug overdoses last year, including slightly more than 20,000 from synthetic opioids.

The institute highlights overdose deaths from opioids increased every year at more than 10,000 in 2002 to about 35,000 in 2015.

The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), an advocacy group that represents nearly 3,000 local health departments, agreed with Trump there’s an opioid crisis in America. However, the group said Trump’s declaration for a national emergency only last 90 days and no additional federal money will be released.

Unfortunately, the opioid crisis has affected the Black community for years, said Calondra Tibbs, NACCHO senior adviser of public health programs.

“Heroin has impacted the African-American community and low-income communities … that are the most vulnerable,” she said. “Factors that contribute … such as the economy and jobs and housing. When those protective factors are not there that can create a larger drug problem.”

Although the state money will help localities combat the present opioid problem, more resources such as additional staff and drug treatment facilities are necessary for future prevention.

“With more people addicted to opioids, you need more people with outpatient and inpatient care,” Tibbs said. “A person can go throw withdrawals. Addiction is a lifetime disease. People need some support over time.”

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