In the Hole: Understanding Maryland’s Opioid Epidemic | WYPR

In the Hole: Understanding Maryland’s Opioid Epidemic

State health officials estimate that more than 2,000 Marylanders died of opioid overdoses in 2018, and the vast majority of those overdoses were related to fentanyl, which is cheaper and deadlier than heroin.

In this series, In the Hole: Understanding Maryland’s Opioid Epidemic, WYPR’s Mary Rose Madden explores the effects of the epidemic and the efforts to stem the rising death toll.

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Mary Rose Madden

It’s been 48 hours since Darryll Burrell called an intake counselor and got his childhood friend, Al Jackson, a spot in the drug treatment program Powell Recovery in Fells Point.

But first, Al wants to get his prescription for suboxone - one of the three FDA approved medications that can help block the craving for heroin, filled. 

So, for now, Burrell can only sit and wait and worry. He's in his parked car, outside Maryland General Hospital anticpating Al's phone call.

Mary Rose Madden

Al Jackson has been addicted to heroin since he was a young teenager, growing up in South Baltimore. 

These days, he says, it's hard to find heroin that's doesn't have the extremely deadly and cheap opioid, fentanyl mixed in.

And so, at the age of 56, he's desperate to kick his opioid addiction before it takes him under. 

Luckily for him, medicaid patients have more treatment options available. But, the clock is ticking like never before with fentanyl on the streets. 

Mary Rose Madden / wypr

Every day, Darrel Burrell and his team of outreach workers set up a card table near a known drug –dealing site. 

Every day, they hand out about fifty kits containing condoms, Narcan, an antidote for an opioid overdose, and fentanyl test strips.

And every day they teach the people they meet how to check their drugs for the extremely lethal fentanyl, the lead cause by far of opioid overdoses in Maryland, health officials say.

Mary Rose Madden / wypr

State health officials expect that when the final numbers are accounted for, more than 2000 Marylanders will have died from opioid overdoses in 2018. And the number one opioid killer is fentanyl.

Mary Rose Madden / wypr

Public policy on drug use in America focused for years on punishing those addicted. But more recently it’s turned toward what public health experts call “harm reduction.”  By reducing harm from drug use, many experts and public health specialists say, you help an addicted person live another day, a day that may be the start on the path to treatment.