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Tools to Help Combat the Opioid Overdose Epidemic

Beth Hess - Friday, October 21, 2016

In Maryland, as elsewhere in the nation, deaths from drug overdoses have been increasing steadily. Recent data released by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene show that the number of drug and alcohol related deaths in Maryland in the first half of 2016 jumped 50% from the same time period last year. This increase is largely driven by the number of opioid overdoses. In particular, heroin, often being cut or substituted with the drug fentanyl – a powerful and deadly substance – has fueled the overdose epidemic.

Maryland has implemented a number of strategies to reduce the number of opioid overdoses, including improving data sharing and analysis, implementing the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program for doctors, expanding access to medication-assisted treatment, and increasing public awareness.  Below is information about two important overdose prevention initiatives - the Good Samaritan Law and naloxone training and distribution.

The Good Samaritan Law

Maryland’s Good Samaritan Law protects people assisting in an emergency overdose situation from arrest, as well as prosecution, for certain crimes.

The purpose of the law is to encourage any person, regardless of age, who experiences or observes a medical emergency caused by the ingestion or use of alcohol or other drugs to seek medical assistance without fear of arrest or prosecution for:

  • Possessing or using a controlled dangerous substance
  • Possessing or using drug paraphernalia
  • Providing alcohol to minors 

Download the fact sheet with details about the law.

Everyone should know about the Good Samaritan Law.  Please distribute the information widely, especially to youth and young adults. Even if you have no reason to suspect that a youth is using drugs or associating with other youth who use drugs, it is impossible to know with certainty that they will never find themselves in a situation where knowledge of the Good Samaritan Law might save a life.

Beth Schmidt, a mother who lost her son, Sean, to a fentanyl overdose, recounts her story here.  She notes that the individuals who were with her son when he overdosed failed to get help immediately, and wonders if this may have been because of fear of getting into trouble. It is hoped that with widespread dissemination of knowledge about the Good Samaritan Law, lives will be saved.

Naloxone

Naloxone (NARCAN®, EVZIO®) is a prescription medication that safely and effectively reverses an opioid overdose.  Naloxone can be injected into a muscle (intramuscular) or vein (intravenous) or sprayed into the nose (intranasal). Doctors, paramedics, and other healthcare providers have used naloxone for decades. Now many more people in Maryland can get access to naloxone to save a life.

How to Get Naloxone

  1. Maryland Overdose Response Program –The Maryland Overdose Response Program (ORP) offers in-person, hands-on training and certification in recognizing and responding to opioid overdose with naloxone. Most ORP trainings are free to attend and also provide naloxone to trainees at no charge. Check the calendar for a training in your area or contact your local health department to learn more.

    A statewide standing order is now in effect allowing pharmacists to dispense naloxone to ORP certificate holders without a prescription.

  2. Ask your doctor – Maryland law allows any healthcare provider who can prescribe drugs in Maryland (including physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, dentists and others) to prescribe naloxone to their patients. Your provider can prescribe you naloxone if you are personally at risk for opioid overdose OR if you are likely to witness an overdose and be in a position to respond.

Ideally, in order to combat the opioid overdose epidemic, everyone should be trained in how to administer naloxone and carry a kit with them. At a minimum, anyone who is at risk of encountering a person who is overdosing should be trained. Please consider contacting the ORP to learn about trainings in your area.

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