St. Mary’s County Not Immune to Devastating Effects of Opioid Epidemic

September 1, 2017

An Epidemic Hits Home

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

As an Emergency Medical resident with MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, Eric Kiechle, MD, was prepared to treat patients coming to the D.C. hospital who had overdosed on opioids or heroin. But during a rural emergency medical rotation at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital, a ride along with the Lexington Park Volunteer Rescue Squad gave him a different perspective. 

“Walking into a home where people are overdosing really put things in perspective for me,” Eric said. “I could see that the opioid and heroin epidemic has hit the area pretty hard. Obviously, I see it in D.C., but seeing it here was eye-opening to me.” 

Just as in other areas of the country, St. Mary’s County continues to deal with the impact of the opioid and heroin crisis. In June, St. Mary’s saw its first overdose from the powerful drug carfentanil, a synthetic opioid 10,000 times stronger than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl.

In the first half of 2017, the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office has responded to 14 overdose deaths all linked to the use of — or a combination of — heroin, cocaine, fentanyl and/or carfentanil. “On the law enforcement front, we are going after the drug dealers, and if we can identify a dealer in a fatal overdose, we’re going to work with the State’s Attorney’s Office to hold those dealers responsible,” said Capt. Eric Sweeney, Vice/Narcotics. “Our approach to the opioid epidemic is comprehensive: we are investigating, we are arresting, and we are educating.”

The sheriff’s office works closely with the St. Mary’s County Health Department, MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital, St. Mary’s County Public Schools, the Young Marines, and other county organizations to host prevention programs. Its headquarters in Leonardtown is also a collection site for unwanted medications through an anonymous 24/7 drop-box program. 

This initiative ensures proper disposal of medications, so they never enter the streets and minimizes the opportunity for an individual to become a target of crime by having unused medications in their home. Additionally, every September the Sheriff’s Office collects medications directly from the homebound who otherwise may not have the opportunity to dispose of their unused medications.

Every deputy at the sheriff’s office is equipped with and trained to use naloxone (Narcan). The sheriff’s office responded to 106 nonlethal opioid overdoses in the first half of 2017 and administered 99 doses of Narcan to 50 recipients. In 2016, only 49 doses of Narcan were administered by deputies.

“What we see on the streets is that this epidemic does not discriminate — it impacts all ages, genders, backgrounds, and
races. This is a nationwide problem and St. Mary’s County is not immune,” said Sheriff Tim Cameron. “If you have a family member or friend struggling with addiction, please get them help. It’s a horrible epidemic, and the help is out there.”

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