Montgomery County fared better than the rest of Maryland in 2018 when it came to opioid-related deaths, according to a state report released Thursday.
There were 64 opioid-related overdose deaths in the county, compared with 91 the previous year, according to the report from the state’s Opioid Operational Command Center in the governor’s office.
Deaths in Maryland rose to 2,114 last year, an increase from 2,009 in 2017. Opioid deaths have nearly quadrupled in the state over the past decade.
Deaths linked to the synthetic painkiller fentanyl rose 17% from the previous year, and accounted for the majority of opioid-related deaths. Heroin-related fatalities declined by 23.7%.
Raymond Crowel, chief of behavioral and health crisis services for the county’s health and human services department, said the spike in fentanyl deaths is due to the availability of the drug in the market, and the fact that it’s a more toxic substance than heroin.
Crowel said he is “cautiously optimistic” that the state’s opioid crisis is declining because prescription opioid painkillers are being prescribed less due to the state’s drug monitoring program.
He said in the county, deaths have decreased due to the availability of drugs aimed at countering the effects of opioids.
“I think we’ve been increasing public awareness about this, and we’ve been increasing the availability of Naloxone,” the antidote, he said.
Crowel credited Montgomery County Fire and Rescue for much of the effort in making Naloxone available. He said the group most vulnerable to opioid overdose is the age 19 to 39 group.
Eight jurisdictions ended 2018 with more opioid deaths than Montgomery, with Baltimore City the hardest hit, with 798 reported deaths.
The report also spells out funding for jurisdictions, which will go toward a variety of treatment and prevention programs.
Montgomery received $558,808 from the state in fiscal 2019, which represents 2.6% of the total given to Maryland’s 23 counties and Baltimore City.
Montgomery’s funding includes money for the Maryland Criminal Intelligence Network, a state agency that combats gang and drug activity, a public awareness campaign, community forums, a rehabilitation program and the distribution of the opioid-prevention medication Narcan in high-risk communities.
Separately, Montgomery County Public Schools received $200,000 in state funding for a Gaithersburg-based substance abuse recovery program.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org