LANHAM — With opioid-related deaths on the rise throughout Maryland, a study conducted and released by Johns Hopkins University and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Maryland showed that 10 percent of all driver deaths in Maryland are due to opioids.
“Opioid overdose and motor vehicle crashes are the leading causes of injury-related death in the U.S.,” said the study written by Professor of Health Policy and Management Dr. Johnathon Ehsani, Maryland Chief Medical Examiner Dr. David Fowler as well as Professor Emeritus at the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health at the University at Buffalo Bryan Grant and Michelle Duren, research intern for the National Institutes of Health and Johns Hopkins.
“An emerging body of literature is examining the link between the two. While opioids account for the majority of drug overdoses in the United States, data from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates overdose deaths are increasing across all drug types, both opioid and nonopioid.”
The study, entitled “Geographic Variations and Trends in Opioid-involved Crash Deaths in Maryland: 2006-2017,” examined the prevalence of opioids in all vehicle crash fatalities from the years 2006 to 2017 and found several trends among these cases.
Overall, opioids were involved in 10 percent of all crash deaths studied, and the prevalence of opiates increased within that period.
Furthermore, of the drivers who tested positive for opioids, 28 percent had an increased blood alcohol content level, and 45 percent tested positive for other drugs.
Through data collected from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Maryland, U.S. Census data, the Maryland highway safety office and the CDC, researchers found that between January 2006 and December 2017, there were 3,149 fatally injured individuals in all. Of which, 1,989 tested positive for any kind of substance and 316 of them tested positive for opioids.
Demographically, the overwhelming majority of victims, 79.2 percent, were male and 20.8 percent were female. The issue also disproportionately affected caucasian people at 81.6 percent with most being middle-aged.
Of the African American population, only 17 percent of them died from an opioid-related crash, and other minorities fell even lower on the scale.
Most of the opioid-related crashes took place in Baltimore County encompassing 20 percent of all deaths.
While Prince George’s County fell about mid-range among all of the counties in Maryland in regards to opioid-related deaths, the county contained the highest rate of non-opioid deaths at 18 percent.
Meanwhile, although Montgomery County contains the highest population of any other county, it saw few deaths compared to a very low population county like Cecil County which had a high number of deaths.
“Until now, we knew little about the extent of the incidence rate of opioid-involved driver fatalities in Maryland.
However, research is warranted to delve into the crash risks that opioid addiction, abuse, use or impairment impose upon traffic safety in Maryland,” said AAA Mid-Atlantic Manager of Public and Government Affairs John Townsend II.
The study suggests that the amount of car crash deaths correlate to the overall overdose deaths by county and the number of crashes “largely reflect a broader pattern of opioid deaths” and data from the Maryland Department of Health certainly demonstrates a broader issue taking place within the state.
According to the Department of Health’s Quarterly Overdose Death Report, from January through September of 2018 opioid-related deaths in Maryland were at an all-time high with 1,648 deaths, 146 more than 2017 and over 1,000 more than 2008.
As reflected in the study, opioid crash deaths by fentanyl increased dramatically during the last few years of the study and similarly overdose deaths by fentanyl as a whole increased substantially up to 2017.
Although as a whole, Maryland’s death by opioid overdose was higher than previous years through September of 2018, some counties saw a decrease in the number of deaths within that time frame.
The number of overdose deaths in Prince George’s County was at an all-time high through September of 2017 at 124 recorded deaths, but reportedly only 66 people died by September 2018. Montgomery County was also at an all-time high in 2017 with a total of 91 deaths, and only 57 deaths were reported through the third quarter of 2018.
The state has recently begun to address the opioid epidemic in the state seriously.
The federal Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 was signed on Oct. 24 and included reauthorization of the state’s State Opioid Response (SOR) Grants which allocates $66 million in funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration over the next two years towards ending the epidemic.
“This increased federal support is vital to our efforts,” Hogan said. “Nearly 70 percent of all overdose deaths last year involved illicit fentanyl, and the passage of the STOP Act is an important step in addressing the flow of these deadly synthetic drugs into our communities. It has never been more critical to close the loophole for traffickers and stop dangerous synthetic drugs like illicit fentanyl from coming into our state and our country.”
Action from the state includes, in addition to added funding, expansion of treatment and recovery services and prevention and education.
Prince George’s County itself has been involved in the fight where the county Health Department has been providing training with kits for naloxone, a nasal spray used to reverse the effects of opioid-only overdose. Naloxone is then given to community members who may know someone involved with drugs or are in a setting where they can help, as well as other forms of community outreach.