First Quarter Data Shows Troubling Increase in Fatal Opioid-Related Overdoses

The MACo summer conference featured a session on Maryland’s response to the opioid crisis, which was moderated by Delegate Anne Kaiser, chair of the Ways and Means Committee.

pills tumble from a prescription bottleSenior leadership of the Opioid Operational Command Center (OOCC) reviewed key data and metrics around Governor Hogan’s three main policy priorities in this area: prevention and education, enforcement and public safety, and treatment and recovery.

Data on the first quarter of 2021 was shared with the audience by OOCC Executive Director Robin Rickard, which showed a troubling 5.7% increase in fatal overdoses over Q1 2020, with opioid-related fatal overdoses seeing a 6.3% increase. Fentanyl is now far and away the leading opioid type involved in fatal overdoses, accounting for nearly 70% of deaths. However, prescription opioids saw a 37.4% increase in fatal overdoses – a troubling reversal of a previous positive trend in the other direction.

Teresa Heath, Opioid Intervention Team (OIT) Coordinator with the OOCC gave an update on the efforts of the 24 local OITs. Local OITs are interdisciplinary groups that include key public agencies, community and nonprofit organizations, and grassroots advocates and are responsible for implementing specific strategies to combat the opioid crisis in their county. The OOCC, in coordination with local OITs, has identified 143 high-priority programs and services and are working cooperatively to establish and expand these services at the local level to the greatest extent possible.

OOCC Deputy Director Marianne Gibson reviewed the priority projects for 2021, which include addressing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), crisis response, using data to inform policy and programming, recovery residence expansion, care coordination, and wraparound services for justice involved individuals.

Gibson also shared key findings from the OOCC’s Data-Informed Overdose Risk Mitigation:

To cap off the OOCC presentation, Rickard shared the launch of the new Maryland SOS (Stop Overdose Strategy) public engagement campaign. The campaign has two goals: to hear directly from the public about what they feel is needed in their communities to better address the opioid crisis through a series of town halls and to educate people about what programs and efforts can be supported through the Opioid Restitution Fund, which was established in 2019 to manage all funds Maryland receives from litigation against opioid manufacturers and distributors.

To close the session, Chesapeake Employer’s Insurance CEO Tom Phelan shared the important work the company is doing to work with employers to address the opioid epidemic. They have implemented such measures as automatic review of claims when a new opioid is prescribed, red flag refill pattern identification, and a wide variety of education and resources. As a result of their efforts, the number of opioids prescribed for worker’s compensation injuries serviced by Chesapeake has been cut by nearly 60% since 2016 and the number of patients on an opioid medication has been reduced by a similar number.

More about MACo’s Summer Conference: