The Allegany County Board of Health on Tuesday heard some alarming numbers involving overdoses involving drugs and alcohol. Fortunately, the group already has a plan to ease the situation.
Through the first 3 1/2 months of this year, 47 people were reported as non-alcohol-related overdose patients at the Western Maryland Regional Medical Center. That number is on track to exceed 2012, when 126 cases were reported.
In Allegany County, total deaths related to drug or alcohol intoxication were 15 in 2010 and 12 in 2011, the most recent years for which data was available. Eleven of the 2010 deaths were related to opioids, as were eight in 2011. Many people admitted to the hospital because of overdoses did not die, data from Western Maryland Health System show.
Despite the deaths and hospitalizations caused by overdoses, health officials still lack adequate information about the problem. Part of the health department’s plan of attack is to expand the data from the health system to include more information about the specific drug that is the cause of an overdose. Developing a unified policy on painkiller prescriptions is another strategy being reviewed.
Another goal is to pinpoint areas in the community where alcohol and drug abuse rates are highest — and then working on ways to prevent the abuse from occurring.
The health department joined with the health system and the Mental Health Systems Office recently to bring in a national expert, Dr. Andrew Kolodny, to speak to medical professionals about prescription abuse problems. The session was attended by nearly 90 health professionals.
One effort that is already paying off is the unused expired medicine drop-off program. Allegany County has four sites, while many counties have only one or two. Sheriff Craig Robertson said the sites are being used by people wishing to dispose of medications. Disposing of the drugs keeps them out of the hands of children and abusers in a family, and from making their way to dealers in prescription opioids.
Combatting the overdose problem in our community will have to be an on-going effort. Drugs — legal and illegal — as well as alcohol are too easily abused. Having a community-wide strategy plan in use is an important part of the solution.