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CUMBERLAND — A recent surge in opioid overdoses prompted the Garrett County Health Department to issue an alert Wednesday.

While the department is unsure what caused the increase, there’s been a recent rise in fentanyl overdoses across Maryland.

Fentanyl, roughly 100 times more potent than heroin, is being mixed with other drugs including cocaine and methamphetamine to increase their potency, which also increases the likelihood of an overdose and death. 

"Garrett County's threshold based on historical data for the alert is three overdoses within a 48-hour period," Garrett County Health Officer Bob Stephens said via email Wednesday.

Signs of an opioid overdose may include constricted pinpoint pupils, a limp body in a person who does not wake up or respond to touch, low, shallow breathing, slow or faint heartbeat and choking, gurgling or vomiting, he said. 

“If witnessing an overdose, it is important to call 911, and that the individual gets immediate medical care,” Stephens stated in a press release Wednesday. “If a person on the scene has access to (opioid antidote) naloxone, they should administer it immediately. Maryland’s Good Samaritan Law protects a person from arrest for drug and alcohol charges if they call for help for someone else who has overdosed.”

According to the Maryland Opioid Operational Command Center’s recent report, there were 561 opioid-related deaths across the state in the first quarter of 2020, which marks a 2.6% increase compared to the same time last year. 

Opioid-related fatalities decreased by 2.5% on an annual basis between 2018 and 2019, marking the first such decrease since the beginning of the opioid crisis, the report states. 

So far this year, Allegany County experienced 13 drug and/or alcohol-related intoxication deaths, compared to 28 for all of 2019, according to Prescribe Change Allegany County.

COVID-19 might be worsening the opioid crisis, the American Medical Association reports.

“The AMA is greatly concerned by an increasing number of reports from national, state and local media suggesting increases in opioid-related mortality — particularly from illicitly manufactured fentanyl and fentanyl analogs,” the organization stated. “More than 35 states have reported increases in opioid-related mortality as well as ongoing concerns for those with a mental illness or substance use disorder in counties and other areas within the state. This also includes new reports about the need for evidence-based harm reduction services, including sterile needle and syringe services and naloxone.”

Prior to COVID-19, national efforts to stem the opioid crisis were starting to show progress, the Washington Post reported.

“Nationwide, federal and local officials are reporting alarming spikes in drug overdoses — a hidden epidemic within the coronavirus pandemic,” the news organization reported. “When the pandemic hit, some authorities hoped it might lead to a decrease in overdoses by disrupting drug traffic as borders closed and cities shut down. The opposite seems to be happening.”

Millennium Health, an accredited specialty laboratory that provides data via its nationwide medication monitoring and drug testing services, Wednesday stated that it conducted an analysis of more than 500,000 urine drug test results for non-prescribed fentanyl, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine, before and after COVID-19 was declared a national emergency. 

“Nationally, all four drugs had significant increases in positivity,” the company stated. “Public health officials across the country are reporting spikes in drug overdose deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic, with over 30 states reporting increases in opioid-involved overdose deaths, primarily related to (fentanyl).”

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