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Overdose Prevention in Maryland

Did you know? According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every day in the United States 105 people die as a result of drug overdose, and another 6,748 are treated in emergency departments (ED) for the misuse or abuse of drugs.



Drug overdoses have become a serious public health challenge in Maryland and across the country.  In Maryland, the total number of overdose deaths has risen steadily since 2010, mainly due to the increase in heroin-related deaths.  According to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, as it has become more difficult and expensive to obtain prescription opioids, people have switched to cheaper and more accessible heroin. To address these concerns and save the lives of Marylanders, Governor O’Malley has set a goal of reducing overdose deaths by 20% by the end of 2015.

Under the O’Malley-Brown Administration, Maryland’s state agencies have engaged in comprehensive, cross-agency efforts to reduce opioid overdose deaths. These efforts include educating the public and implementing new medical practices. Read more about their efforts here.

Overdose Prevention Council

On June 27, 2014, Governor O’Malley issued Executive Order 01.01.2014.11 creating the Overdose Prevention Council to counter an increase in the number of overdose deaths.   To address the epidemic, the Council will advise and assist in establishing a coordinated, statewide effort to reduce the number of fatal and non-fatal overdoses in Maryland.  

Data Initiatives

In order to better understand the epidemic, Maryland has enhanced surveillance in the state through reports on drug and alcohol intoxication deaths using data from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.  The more detailed and timely review of data allows the Department and local jurisdictions to identify patterns of overdose activity, which enhances public health responses and planned interventions at the state and local levels. 

Maryland StateStat will be calculating progress towards the goal of reducing overdose deaths by 20 percent by the end of 2015 by tracking the number of overdose deaths, based on information supplied to the Virtual Data Unit by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Opioid Overdose Prevention Plans

Maryland's overdose prevention efforts are rooted in the Maryland Opioid Overdose Prevention Plan, a statewide strategy for reducing overdose deaths related to pharmaceutical opioids and heroin. The plan's state goal is to reduce unintentional overdoses involving opioids, such as prescription painkillers and heroin.  Released in January 2013, the plan includes components such as:

  • Enhancing overdose-related data sharing and analysis,
  • Improving access to substance use disorder treatment and recovery services,
  • Providing clinical education and training for healthcare providers,
  • Implementing the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program,
  • Broadening access to naloxone, and
  • Other initiatives.

In 2013, all Maryland counties and Baltimore City submitted local overdose prevention plans to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.  Key themes in the plans include:

  • Promoting clinician education on opioid prescribing practices and use of the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program,
  • Outreach to populations at high risk of overdose,
  • Expanding access to medication-assisted treatment for individuals with opioid dependence,
  • Encouraging naloxone distribution, and
  • Increasing public awareness.  

Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP)

Fully launched in December 2013, the Maryland PDMP aims to reduce prescription drug misuse and diversion by creating a secure database of all Schedule II-V controlled dangerous substances (CDS) prescribed and dispensed in Maryland.  The PDMP can make data on prescription opioids and other CDS available to healthcare providers, pharmacists, patients, researchers, health occupations licensing boards, and public health and safety agencies. 

Overdose Response Program

Maryland’s Overdose Response Program provides for the training and certification of individuals to administer naloxone (Narcan®) based on their ability to assist someone at risk of dying from an opioid-related overdose when emergency medical services are not immediately available.  The law enables opioid users’ family members, friends and associates to legally obtain a prescription for naloxone in their own name.  The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene oversees the program and authorizes local health departments, community-based organizations, substance use disorder treatment programs and other health care providers to offer educational training programs and issue certificates to trained individuals. 

Good Samaritan Law (Limited Criminal Immunity)

Governor O’Malley signed a new “Good Samaritan Law” (HB 416) in May 2014, which will go into effect October 1, 2014.  The law establishes that, "a person who, in good faith, seeks, provides, or assists with the provision of medical assistance for a person experiencing an alcohol- or drug-related medical emergency (such as an overdose) may be immune from criminal prosecution for specific violations if the evidence was obtained solely as a result of the person reaching out for medical assistance.  The bill also protects the person experiencing the medical emergency under the same conditions from prosecution for specific violations."

Local Overdose Fatality Review Teams (LOFRTs)

Modeled on other mortality review teams and established as medical review committees, LOFRTs comprise multi-agency/multi-disciplinary members that conduct confidential case reviews of overdose deaths with the goal of preventing future deaths.  Teams identify missed opportunities for prevention, gaps in the system and areas for increased collaboration among agencies and stakeholders at the local level, and make recommendations for policies, programs or laws to prevent overdose deaths and to inform local overdose prevention plans.  The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene currently supports three pilot teams in Baltimore City, Cecil County and Wicomico County by providing overdose death records and technical assistance.   

Passage of HB 1282  in 2014 establishes LOFRTs under Maryland law and allows any jurisdiction to establish a team.  The bill creates team structure and processes; includes provisions governing data collection, maintenance and reporting, including confidentiality and agency disclosure requirements; and provides immunity from civil liability to team members participating in good faith and to persons providing information to LOFRTs.  Teams established under the bill may advise the State about changes to law, policy, or practice on preventing overdose death. ​

CDS Emergency Preparedness Plan

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has partnered with pain management specialists at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy to develop and implement a plan to respond to the abrupt cessation of CDS prescribing and/or dispensing (e.g.  due to prescriber loss of license) in a local community.  The emergency preparedness plan focuses on working with the local health department and healthcare providers to mitigate risks to affected CDS patients and the surrounding community by assisting with patient triage and facilitating their transition to appropriate care. 

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