In a staggering look at the opioid crisis gripping the state, a little more than half of Marylanders say they personally know someone who has been addicted to opioids, according to a new poll.
Eighty-two percent of respondents say they view the opioid addiction crisis as a major problem, and an almost identical number, 81 percent, say medical care is needed to treat addiction, according to the new Goucher Poll. Pollsters from the college surveyed 800 Marylanders from Feb. 12-17.
“This is one of those results that we got back and I just cringed,” Mileah Kromer, director of Goucher’s Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center, told Baltimore Fishbowl. “What a terrible place to be where 52 percent of Marylanders consider themselves personally affected by opioid addiction.”
The number of opioid-related deaths in Maryland has spiked in recent years, according to data released by the Maryland Department of Health. From January to September of last year, the most recent period for which data is available, 1,501 people died, an increase from 1,344 people during the same period in 2016.
Overall, there were 1,856 opioid-related deaths in 2016, a stark increase from 1,089 the year prior, according to health department data. Heroin and fentanyl have proved to be the most fatal.
Baltimore had a total of 986 deaths related to heroin, fentanyl and other prescription opioids that year, the most of any jurisdiction in the state.
Gov. Larry Hogan last year declared a state of emergency related to the opioid epidemic. He also signed a bipartisan bill increasing access to naloxone, an overdose-reversal drug, and funding for community health groups.
In the city, training is available to teach city residents how to use naloxone if they encounter someone overdosing. The increase in demand for the remedy caused the city to ration its supply and ask for additional funding to buy more.
Wen also made the drug much more widely available by signing a standing order for all pharmacies to sell naloxone over the counter.
Kromer said upon reviewing the poll data, she considered Dr. Wen’s public health push to dissuade people from viewing the addiction crisis as something to blame on those addicted to drugs, rather than a disease. The new data reflect a shift in understanding, she said.
“Individuals recognize that you need medical attention or professional medical help to get over opioid addiction,” she said. “That number [81 percent] says it’s a public health problem.”
Ethan McLeod contributed reporting.