A Prescription for Change: Combating Maryland’s Opioid Epidemic

July 28, 2017

Drug Monitoring Program May Help Curb Opioid Epidemic

This is the second in a four-part series on the opioid epidemic in our community.

When you hear the words State of Emergency your thoughts naturally turn to natural disasters, not drugs. But on March 1, Gov. Larry Hogan declared a State of Emergency in Maryland in response to the heroin, opioid and fentanyl crisis devastating communities throughout the state and the country. 

“Our community has not gone untouched by this crisis,” said Jeremy Tucker, DO, medical director of the Emergency Department at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital. “The sad truth is that we encounter the effects of this every day in our Emergency Department. The number of people we have coming to us seeking prescription pain medication and the number of overdoses we see continues to rise. The drugs available on the street are stronger, more addictive and deadlier than ever before.” 

Heroin and the new kid on the street, fentanyl, are cheaper more readily available alternatives to illegally obtained prescription opioids, and become the drug of choice for many when access to prescription opioids runs out. According to statistics from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, in some areas of the state approximately one in 10 people are addicted to heroin. 

“We are not just talking about prescription opioids,” said Meenakshi G. Brewster, MD, MPH, St. Mary’s County Health Officer. “Certainly, when this all started, it was probably the most prominent feature, but now a major factor is heroin and fentanyl.”

According to Dr. Brewster, fentanyl is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine and incredibly more potent than other prescription opioids and heroin. “Sadly, people buying and selling drugs on the street may not be aware that fentanyl is cut into the medication or the drug they are selling or buying,” said Dr. Brewster. “Even non-opioids, like Xanax, we are now sometimes finding have opioids like fentanyl cut into them and people are overdosing because it is incredibly powerful, they haven’t built up a tolerance and their bodies are overwhelmed.”

Helping to Curb Over-prescribing 

One way Maryland hopes to combat the opioid epidemic is with the Maryland Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP). Officials are counting on it to become the first line of defense and help reduce over-prescribing of prescription pain medications as well as doctor shopping for multiple narcotic prescriptions. 

The PDMP was created to support providers and their patients in the safe and effective use of prescription drugs. Pharmacists and practitioners authorized to prescribe controlled dangerous substances must be registered with the PDMP by July, and by July 2018 prescribers will be required to query and review their patient’s PDMP data prior to prescribing an opioid or benodiazephine, and repeat that query every 90 days thereafter as long as they continue to prescribe opioids.

“The new drug monitoring program will be a tremendous benefit to help reduce the risk of over-prescribing opioids,” said Dr. Tucker. “The PDMP will allow us to make more informed decisions about whether or not to prescribe narcotics to patients to control their pain. Earlier identification of a patient who might be at risk of abusing opioids gives us the opportunity to help that individual find the treatment they need which ultimately could save their life.”

Visit MedStarStMarys.org/Opioids for more information on lifesaving resources and information.