CUMBERLAND — Allegany County dispatchers have handled 183 calls for drug overdoses in the last three months, an average of 14 per week.
And officials believe that number could be even higher since “callers don’t want to report an overdose when speaking with emergency center dispatchers,” said Todd Bowman, spokesperson for the county’s Department of Emergency Services.
In Allegany County, the bulk of overdose calls to the 911 center are made from locations in Cumberland.
There were 32 overdoses in the city in May and June, including three that were fatal, according to the Cumberland Police Department. From January into early July, there were 82 drug overdoses in the city — compared to 90 in all of 2019 and 151 in 2018.
“The city of Cumberland’s fire and emergency services responders deal every day with the drug crisis in our community,” Chief Donnie Dunn said. “Many of our patients are repeat offenders and many times we have two members of the same family, both overdosed.”
The first-responders sometimes encounter a patient under the influence of an opioid overdose “who presents a threat to emergency responders,” said Dunn.
And sometimes it’s even worse.
“Sometimes relatives and friends become combative and secondary issues develop. We are fortunate to have a police department that is quick to respond in these situations,” the chief said.
The city fire department spends an average of $1,100 every month for naloxone, a drug that treats opioid overdoses. Sometimes, a patient requires more than one dose to regain consciousness. The department administers 20-22 such treatments every month and a grant from the Allegany County Health Departments helps with the expense.
So far this year, there have been 12 fatal overdoses in the city and 10 more that have occurred outside the city limits, as of early last month. There were 24 fatal overdoses in 2019 in the county and 32 in 2018.
There were 11 fatal overdoses in the city last year and 18 recorded in 2018, according to statistics provided by the city police department.
In all of Allegany County, there have been 109 overdoses this year into early July. There were 143 overdose deaths in the county in 2019 and 196 in 2018.
James R. Pyles, a retired Maryland State Police major who directs the county’s Department of Emergency Services, said there have been “170 total overdose deaths in Allegany County in five years ending in 2018 and only 13 of those were not opioid related.”
In all of Maryland, there were 9,077 overdoses deaths from 2014-2018 and 1,092 of those were not opioid-related, Pyles said.
Consider there were 37 million doses of prescription opioids that flowed into Allegany County from 2006 to 2012, according to Pyles.
“If I were writing a book, chapter one would be the opioid epidemic and the over prescribing of pills,” he said. “Chapter two would be the over-prescribing of pills that created the heroin epidemic and chapter three would be fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that has forever changed this epidemic and is the number one threat.”
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent that heroin.
Synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, are now the most common drugs involved in drug overdose deaths in the United States, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse.
In 2017, 59% of opioid-related deaths involved fentanyl compared to 14.3% in 2010, according to the NIDA.
Sheriff Craig Robertson said he has seen an increase in the overdose numbers “over the past several months” and his office and allied police departments are not letting up on enforcement efforts to fight the drug epidemic.
“My office has still continued to focus on the illegal drugs in Allegany County and I credit my staff with making many outstanding arrests and seizures,” he said.
Robertson said the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted a five-year partnership between his office and the Allegany County Health Department that educates middle and high school students about the dangers of opioids and heroin.