County five-point opioid planHealth department comes out with latest attempt to combat impact of drugs during conference last week
(April 14, 2017) The Worcester County Health Department revealed its five-point plan to identify and combat the effects of opioid and heroin addiction in Worcester during the eighth annual community health conference in Ocean City last Wednesday.
The document wasn’t the only topic of discussion during the conference, as both Hepatitis C and Zika virus were also examined, but the opioid response plan was given the most time and attention.
The plan beings with the current strategies to reduce harm and prevent relapse and then moves to early identification and intervention screening. The third part focuses on treatment and support, including identifying some of the community groups that have formed or expanded their offerings to help combat the ongoing crisis.
Next, the plan branches out into data tracking both for its own use and for sharing with other associated agencies, like emergency services. When Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency with regards to opioid deaths in Maryland in March, he put state emergency manager Clay Stamp in charge of the issue.
That responsibility has filtered locally to Fred Webster, county emergency services director, who said his role is still being defined.
These new efforts, along with how the emergency services and health departments envision their coordination, are the final portion of the opioid plan.
The report begins with some facts, including the doubling of drug and alcohol related deaths on the lower shore from 20 in 2011 to 40 in 2015.
According to the 2010 census, Worcester has a population of about 51,000, but the state and the county plans use a 100,000 population figure in its statistics, meaning the true numbers are twice as large as quoted.
Even without the adjustment, Worcester is one of the top five counties in the state for emergency visits for prescription opioids, the report said. From 2008-2014, the local rate was 24.2 per 100,000 while the state rate is just 14.8 per 100,000.
Between 2007-2015, 90 drug- and alcohol-related deaths occurred in the county, according to the health department. While the total number is not provided in the report, it says the number of deaths in 2015 were triple those in in 2013, with prescription opioids, heroin and fentanyl named as the cause of the increase.
Starting with prevention and harm reduction, the county is required to establish and maintain an advisory council on alcohol and other drugs. The efforts of the council and two public awareness campaigns: “Decisions matter” and “Be a hero, save a life” are intended to convey the government’s intentions in dealing with the crisis.
Decisions matter focuses on parents and adults who may not secure prescription painkillers well enough, which could allow others access to the medications. The other campaign focuses on training with opioid-overdose inhibitor Naloxone.
The Board of Education is currently experimenting with a curriculum at an eighth-grade class at Stephen Decatur Middle School intended to limit opioid experimentation. The results of the pilot program are expected to be presented to the county commissioners in July, for possible Worcester-wide rollout.
Next, early identification and intervention, the county is preparing for a soft launch of the statewide 211 phone line to connect people to health and human services resources within the community in June. The county is also integrating opioid-awareness programs within other existing health service areas like reproductive health and adult services.
Efforts with the existing crisis response team, another 24/7 initiative to provide a quick response to those in need along with follow up care and programs at Atlantic General Hospital will continue.
Treatment is already offered by a variety of services, but the health department is seeking money to form an overdose outreach team to work with families and providers following an overdose or close call.
The final phase of the plan is data sharing between the departments that have been affected by the crisis: the medical examiner, the county’s overdose fatality review team, the regional health exchange and a prescription drug monitoring program.
“While Worcester County faces specific challenges in relation to the opioid epidemic due to its rural geography, being a health professional shortage area and a medically underserved area, Worcester County has strengths that will enable a powerful response,” the report reads. “Worcester County’s strong collaborations and partnerships with organizations across sectors and counties will be critical in addressing this epidemic.”