The country’s other deadly pandemic – widespread drug addiction – recently emerged in Frederick County, killing seven people last month, including four in one week.
Health officials suspect an illegal drug of unusual potency has taken users by surprise.
Unlike the coronavirus pandemic, we don’t have a vaccine that will protect people from drugs and overdoses. Ultimately, only drug addicts can protect themselves from the powerful disease of addiction.
Drug addiction was already a huge problem in this country before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, but it has gotten significantly worse.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of the start of the pandemic in June 2020, 13% of Americans said they started or increased substance use as a way to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19.
Overdoses have also increased. The American Psychological Association said the early months of the pandemic saw an 18% increase in overdoses nationwide compared to those same months in 2019, and the trend has continued.
The greatest risk may be in former drug addicts. Dr. Farihah Ali, lead author of a survey published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, was quoted in the Pharmacy Times news website as saying: “People who use drugs have been negatively affected by pandemic in a way that puts them at greater risk. for experiencing substance abuse and health-related harms, including overdoses and reduced ability to mitigate risky behaviors.
According to this study, 47% of respondents indicated that their substance use had increased during COVID-19, and 38% said they believed they were at higher risk of overdose.
Documenting four deaths in one week in Frederick County is highly unusual, Jessica Ellis of the County Health Department’s Behavioral Health Services Division told News-Post reporter Angela Roberts in an email. The county averages one overdose death per week.
Ellis stressed the importance of the Department of Health’s harm reduction approach to preventing overdoses. This allows staff to provide one-on-one resources and support to help people reduce the harm from their drug use until they are ready to change, she said.
“We need to meet people where they are because recovery is a process, and we intend to support people wherever they are in this process,” she said.
Health department awareness gets a boost from the county’s Division of Fire and Rescue Services, which adopts a sufficiently broad definition of the word “rescue.”
In 2018, the division launched the Mobile Community Healthcare program to help residents who use emergency medical services at a higher rate. Today, paramedic Matt Burgan works with health department specialists to respond to overdoses and refer patients to treatment.
In 2021, 76% of the 131 people the team met had no prior connection to treatment, Burgan said. More than 70 percent requested a link to treatment through the Outreach Team.
Burgan said there is often a narrow window in which people are willing to accept help. Immediately after a non-fatal overdose is definitely one of those times.
“The ability of our community paramedic and Department of Health peer support specialists to engage the patient and family while this event is still fresh in their minds is critical to the success rate for us to be able to connect them. services,” DFRS chief Tom Coe told the county council, according to News-Post reporter Mary Grace Keller.
Drug treatment saves lives. It can also save families from being plunged into the depths of grief over the needless loss of a loved one.
The people in the health department and the rescue service are on the front lines of the long fight to save drug addicts from themselves. Chief Coe is looking to expand the service, and it seems like a worthwhile use of public money.