Drive-Thru Flu Vaccination Clinic Offered at MedStar St. Mary’s

Leonardtown, Maryland  – MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital is making it even easier to stay healthy this winter with a Drive-Thru Community Flu Vaccination Clinic to be held Saturday, Nov. 10, from 10 a.m. to noon. The clinic will be offered on the MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital campus under the breezeway in front of the Outpatient Pavilion behind the main hospital.

A $10 donation is requested for each vaccination, and insurance/Medicare will not be accepted. The Afluria Quadrivalent vaccine will be available to individuals 18 and older and will be administered by our staff. The quadrivalent vaccine is designed to protect against 2 influenza A strain viruses and 2 influenza B strain viruses. This vaccine is not suitable for any individuals who have an allergy to any components of the vaccine, including egg proteins or those who have previously suffered an allergic reaction to any influenza vaccine.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the 2017-2018 flu season brought large numbers of patients to outpatient clinics and emergency department for influenza-like illnesses for an extended period of time. The CDC recommends flu vaccines for everyone six months and older.

Call 301-475-6019 for more information about the Drive-Thru Community Flu Vaccination Clinic.

 

About MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital
MedStar St. Mary's Hospital (MSMH) is a full-service community hospital, delivering state-of-the-art emergency, acute inpatient and outpatient care in Leonardtown, Maryland. Nestled in a waterside community, MedStar St. Mary's provides advanced technology with a dedication to excellence in all services provided. The not-for-profit hospital has been named among the nation’s Top 100 Hospitals™ and is an eight time recipient of the prestigious Delmarva Medicare Excellence Award. In addition, MSMH received the Maryland Performance Excellence award at the Platinum level in 2014 – the highest in the state. Our staff is committed to providing quality and compassionate medical care for all patients by coupling innovation with our outstanding team of Medical Staff members, associates and volunteers. Visit MedStarStMarys.org to learn more.

Could Your Vitamin Impact Blood Test Results?

Many doctor’s appointments begin with the same question: what medications are you taking? Though going through the list might feel tedious, it’s important to share an up-to-date rundown every time to determine how these drugs may interact with each other — and even how they could impact important blood tests.

Last fall, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) issued a safety alert regarding the water-soluble vitamin B7, or biotin, frequently found in multivitamins and supplements. Daily biotin recommendations range from 5 to 35 micrograms, depending on one’s age, gender, and other factors including pregnancy. Biotin can also be ingested naturally through common foods such as sweet potatoes, mushrooms, eggs, and spinach.

“Many dietary supplements promoted for hair, skin, and nail benefits contain biotin levels up to 650 times the recommended daily intake of biotin,” states the FDA. “Biotin in blood or other samples taken from patients who are ingesting high levels of biotin in dietary supplements can cause clinically significant incorrect lab test results.”

The FDA has seen an increase in the number of reported adverse events — including one death — related to biotin interference with lab tests. Biotin in patient samples can cause falsely high or falsely low results, depending on the test, and the influence of biotin may not always be apparent to healthcare providers or laboratories.

“Incorrect test results may lead to inappropriate patient management or misdiagnosis,” the FDA cautions. “For example, a falsely low result for troponin, a clinically important biomarker to aid in the diagnosis of heart attacks, may lead to a missed diagnosis and potentially serious clinical implications.”

High levels of biotin can skew common tests used to diagnose conditions including pregnancy, cancer, thyroid disease, heart disease, anemia, and other hormonal-related conditions. Fortunately, often only a day without taking the supplement is required for accurate test results.

Keep an up-to-date list of your current medications on file with your physician to have them available for other medical providers. Be sure to note if you are currently taking biotin, and consider bringing your labeled multivitamin to appointments to be sure its contents are recorded.

Visit MedStarStMarys.org/Laboratory to learn more about laboratory services offered through MedStar St. Mary’s and prepare for your next blood test.

MedStar St. Mary's Laboratory Centers 

Belmont Building
23000 Moakley St.
Suite 205, Leonardtown

East Run Center
45870 East Run Drive
Lexington Park

MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital
25500 Point Lookout Road
Leonardtown

The Vape Debate: This New Trend May Be Riskier Than You Think

The e-cigarette market has been on fire the past few years. With nearly 500 brands and 7,700 flavors of e-cigarettes on the market, according to the American Lung Association, these electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) are sparking renewed interest and debates around the use of tobacco products and the harmful effects of nicotine.

“We feel that it is important to educate the community on the potential harms and risks of vaping,” said Angela Cochran, director of Chronic Disease Prevention & Control for St. Mary’s County Health Department. “As the research evolves we continue to gain more knowledge on how e-cigarette use affects our health.”

In 2015, the Health Department created the VapeAware awareness campaign to help provide the latest information on this trendy smoking alternative. It also works with the Tobacco Free Living Action Team of the Healthy St. Mary’s Partnership to improve tobacco-related health outcomes in the county.

“The Health Department works on reducing the use of all forms of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes,” Angela said. “We try to focus on population-level strategies such as including e-cigarettes into smoke-free indoor air policies and restricting youth access to e-cigarettes in retail settings.”

What is particularly disturbing is the trend among adolescents and teens. According to the Maryland 2016 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 42 percent of teen respondents in St. Mary’s County had tried electronic vapor products within the 30 days prior to taking the survey. 

“Recent reports are showing substantial evidence that e-cigarette use increases the likelihood youth and young adults will eventually begin using combustible tobacco cigarettes,” Angela said. “Despite the popularity of e-cigarettes, we continue to promote awareness through a comprehensive tobacco control program that focuses on prevention and cessation of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, among youth.”

Know the Health Risks

New studies are also showing that e-cigarettes are not as harmless as many would like to believe. Although not as toxic as smoking regular cigarettes, use of ENDS still comes with many risks including exposure to nicotine and other aerosols which are known cancer causers.

“Research on this is still pending in a few areas because long-term effects haven’t had a chance to be studied,” said Pam Laigle, BSN, RN, PCCN, clinical leader of the Grace Anne Dorney Pulmonary & Cardiac Rehab Center. However, research has discovered other effects on the cardiovascular system as well as new evidence of what is called ‘popcorn’ lung, a serious and irreversible lung disease. “Anything other than breathing oxygen,” said Pam, “essentially is not good.”

Visit MedStarStMarys.org/Tobacco for more information on the Grace Anne Dorney Pulmonary & Cardiac Rehabilitation Center, the risks of tobacco use, and smoking cessation resources.

What is Vaping?

Electronic nicotine delivery systems, which include e-cigarettes, vape pens, e-hookahs, e-cigars, personal vaporizers, and electronic pipes, use a battery to heat liquid that contains nicotine, flavorings, and additives, which are inhaled into the lungs.

Know the Risks

► Exposure to Nicotine: Nicotine is highly addictive and adversely affects the heart, reproductive system, lungs, kidneys, etc., and may increase the risk of certain cancers.

► Exposure to Aerosols: Aerosols may contain harmful substances including cancer-causing chemicals and tiny particles that reach deep inside the lungs.

► Increases Risk of Using Other Tobacco Products: For teens and adolescents, serves as a gateway to using combustible cigarettes.

► Poisoning: Accidental exposure to even small amounts of liquid nicotine – as little as a teaspoon - can be fatal to children and a slightly larger amount could kill an adult.

► Burns: Batteries can explode causing severe injury.

More Than Skin Deep: Frequent Checks Important for Early Cancer Detection

Skin cancer doesn’t always look like trouble. 

Though most of us would know to seek a medical opinion over a suspicious mole, other patches may not seem questionable at all. That’s why regular skin checks — through self-exams, as well as appointments with your family physician or dermatologist — are important. Basal cell carcinoma, the most common type of skin cancer, frequently looks like a flesh-colored, pearl-like bump, or raised reddish patch that might be itchy. They can also appear to be flat, firm, pale, or yellow areas, similar to a scar, or pink growths with raised edges. These can develop anywhere on the body after years of frequent sun exposure or indoor tanning.

Suspicious areas can also look like dry, rough, scaly patches or spots that may be flesh-colored or pink-red. Known as actinic keratoses, these spots usually appear on areas prone to frequent sun exposure: the neck, head, hands, and forearms, according to the American Cancer Society. People with one actinic keratosis often develop many more. These spots could stay the same, clear up on their own, or develop into squamous cell carcinoma, so seeking a professional opinion is key.

Red firm bumps, scaly patches, wart-like growths, sores that heal but then come back — these could be indicative of squamous cell carcinoma. The rims of the ears, neck, back, face, arms, and chest are frequently affected by these growths, which can develop deep in the skin and spread to other areas of the body.

Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, usually develops in a mole or suddenly appears as a new dark spot on the skin. “Most people have moles, and almost all moles are harmless,” states the American Cancer Society. “But it’s important to notice changes in a mole — such as its size, shape, or color — because that may be a sign that melanoma is developing.”

“Regardless of your skin suspicions, catching them early is very important,” said Temeria Wilcox, CRNP, a board-certified family nurse practitioner at MedStar Health Primary Care at East Run Center in Lexington Park. “Because basal cell carcinoma, in particular, can invade the surrounding tissue and grow into the nerves and bones, preventing permanent damage starts with doing regular skin checks, keeping appointments for routine physicals, and seeing a doctor right away with any skin concerns.”

When doing a self-exam, note your standard birthmarks, moles, and other blemishes, and have a partner help inspect hard-to-reach areas like your back and neck. Regular exams are especially important for those at a higher risk of skin cancer: people with reduced immunity; those who have had skin cancer before; and people with a strong family history of the disease.

“Be aware of your normal pattern of moles, freckles, and blemishes,” Temeria advised. “Checking your own skin frequently can help find many skin cancers early, when they are easier to treat. Your doctor can work with you as a part of your routine physical and overall wellness.”

Visit MedStarStMarys.org/SkinCheck to learn more about skin health.

What to Look For:

The A, B, C, D, Es of Melanoma

___________________________

A- ASYMMETRY

One half is unlike the other half.

B - BORDER

An irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined border.

C - COLOR

Varied from one area to another; has shades of tan, brown or black, or is sometimes white, red, or blue.

D - DIAMETER

Melanomas are usually greater than 6mm (the size of a pencil eraser) when diagnosed, but they can be smaller.

E - EVOLVING

A mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest or is changing in the size, shape, or color. If a spot changes, itches, bleeds, or is different from others, see your doctor or dermatologist. 

Source: American Academy of Dermatology

OPIOIDS: The Youngest Victims of a Nationwide Crisis

When an expectant mother arrives at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital, she will undergo a variety of tests prior to delivering, including a screening for drugs and alcohol. If a mother’s results are positive, her newborn child will also be tested.

“We are seeing episodes of babies testing positive for opioids much more frequently than several years ago,” said Jeanne Hill, MSN, RNC, director of MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital’s Women’s Health & Family Birthing Center. Babies born to drug-addicted mothers are the youngest victims of what continues to be a nationwide crisis and they are not difficult to identify, said Jeanne. “They have a high-pitched cry, they can’t calm themselves down, they have tremors, they often have diarrhea and tensed muscles,” she said. “It is just heartbreaking.”

MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital is among 30 birthing centers in Maryland joining forces with the Maryland Patient Safety Care Center to standardize care for babies suffering neonatal abstinence syndrome. As part of the hospital’s efforts, mothers are presented with information about how and where to get help with substance abuse. Although Jeanne feels their work is making a difference, there is still plenty to be done.

Fighting the Addiction 

“We need every single person in the community to recognize addiction is an illness, it is a brain disease and it requires an evidenced-based approach to treatment,” said Meenakshi G. Brewster, MD, MPH, St. Mary’s County Health Officer. The Health Department, MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital and Sheriff’s Department are among the many community organizations coming together to offer a comprehensive response to this epidemic. “It is a challenge like we have never seen before in the treatment community,” said Kathleen O’Brien, PhD, chief executive officer of Walden, which provides crisis, behavioral health, trauma, and recovery services to Southern Maryland. “Certainly, here, historically most of our treatment was related to alcohol and a mixture of some other drugs, but prior to about six years ago, we weren’t seeing opioids or heroin as a presenting problem. Now, that is about 70 percent of the primary substance abuse cases coming through our doors.”

Harry Gill, MD, PhD, medical director of Behavioral Health for MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital and president of Axis Healthcare Group, says he believes the opioid epidemic has gotten worse due to the prevalence of more lethal synthetic opioids. “Most patients have co-occurring disorders − they have a psychiatric disorder and addiction,” said Dr. Gill. “Going through substance abuse treatment provides temporary relief, but if the psychiatric condition is not treated, relapse is highly likely.”

Dr. Gill said many people who turn to opioids also have anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorders, all of which are treatable. In his work with the hospital, Dr. Gill is called in for psychiatric consultations with patients suspected of intentionally overdosing on opioids. These patients are typically discharged to outpatient substance abuse programs such as those provided by Walden, but often need treatment for co-occurring disorders. Support from their family and their community also plays a large role in the recovery process. “Family support is critical because it is such an isolating illness, such an isolating disorder that re-engaging with the world and, in particular, the people who love you unconditionally is a critical component of recovery,” said Dr. Gill.

Changing the Conversation

Winning the battle against opioid addiction means making sure those fighting their addictions know that assistance is available and they can receive help to access it. In addition, the community as a whole needs to accept that addiction is a disease, not a choice or a moral weakness, said Dr. O’Brien, and that treatment works and recovery is possible. “This disease doesn’t affect others, it affects all of us, and we all could possibly be afflicted by this disease,” said Dr. O’Brien. “In all my years in doing this, people think it’s the other who gets impacted, but we are all vulnerable.”

WHERE TO FIND HELP

Call the Maryland Crisis Hotline
at 1-800-422-0009 or visit
MedStarStMarys.org/Opioids
for information and links.

Note: This article concludes a four-part series on the opioid epidemic in our community. 

Outpatient Laboratory Services Now Offered in Main Hospital

Leonardtown, Maryland – Beginning Monday, Oct. 2, outpatient laboratory services at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital will be moved into the main hospital. There will no longer be laboratory services offered in the Outpatient Pavilion. Patients who need blood work or specimen collections should sign in at the front desk in the hospital’s main lobby.

Not all insurances are accepted at the hospital laboratory and it is recommended patients contact their insurance providers prior to visiting. All insurances are accepted at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital’s laboratory centers at the Belmont Building in Leonardtown and at the Chesapeake Charter School in Lexington Park.

All locations accept walk-ins for general blood testing, but appointments will be required for glucose tolerance tests, semen analysis, and DNA testing. The last specimen collection is performed 15 minutes prior to closing at each site.

Laboratory Center at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital
25500 Point Lookout Road, Leonardtown, MD 20650
301-475-6133 PHONE; 301-475-6165 FAX
7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday-Friday; 7 a.m. to 12 p.m., Saturday

Laboratory Center at the Belmont Building
23000 Moakley Street, Suite 103, Leonardtown, MD 20650
301-475-2494 PHONE; 301-475-8388 FAX
7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday, Tuesday, Thursday; 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday; 7 a.m. to 12 p.m., Friday
Office closed from 12 to 1 p.m.

Laboratory Center at the Chesapeake Charter School
20945 Great Mills Road, Suite 202, Lexington Park, MD 20653
301-866-1464 PHONE; 301-862-9575 FAX
7 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., Monday – Friday; Office closed from 12 to 1 p.m.

Visit MedStarStMarys.org/Laboratory for more information.

About MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital
MedStar St. Mary's Hospital (MSMH) is a full-service community hospital, delivering state-of-the-art emergency, acute inpatient and outpatient care in Leonardtown, Maryland. Nestled in a waterside community, MedStar St. Mary's provides advanced technology with a dedication to excellence in all services provided. The not-for-profit hospital has been named among the nation’s Top 100 Hospitals™ and is an eight-time recipient of the prestigious Delmarva Medicare Excellence Award. In addition, MSMH received the Maryland Performance Excellence award at the Platinum level in 2014 – the highest in the state. Our staff is committed to providing quality and compassionate medical care for all patients by coupling innovation with our outstanding team of Medical Staff members, associates, and volunteers. 

Contact

Holly Meyer, Director
Marketing, PR & Philanthropy
301-475-6010
[email protected]

 Making Strides Against Sepsis

Sepsis can be deadly, but it doesn’t have to be. For the past year, MedStar St. Mary’s has increased efforts to recognize sepsis early and treat it quickly to ensure the condition doesn’t cost someone their life.

“Since we began our sepsis protocol, we have seen a dramatic decrease in sepsis mortality,” said Jennifer Alvey, BSN, RN, director of the Intensive Care Center (ICC), Respiratory Therapy and Three Central.

Last September, MedStar St. Mary’s began calling a Code Sepsis for patients who are showing signs of developing the deadly condition. Once the code is called, a sepsis response team — Intensive Care Center and Emergency Department staff, a respiratory therapist and the patient’s primary nurse — reviews the patient’s medical chart and any trends in their vital signs to help identify the source of the infection. A pharmacist is also consulted to make sure the proper medications are being given.

According to the Maryland Hospital Association (MHA), sepsis is among the top 10 most common and potentially preventable complications across Maryland hospitals, and it is also a leading cause of mortality and readmission. Continually rising sepsis rates spurred the MHA to partner with the Maryland Patient Safety Commission to create an 18-month collaborative of 11 Maryland hospitals to work toward reducing hospital sepsis mortality.

MedStar St. Mary’s participated in the state program and is helping to take the efforts to the next level by partnering with other regional hospitals to establish a Southern Maryland Collaborative, which will hold its first meeting in the Education & Simulation Center Sept. 19.

“Maryland has taken a really hard stance on sepsis,” Jennifer said. “Next, we will be working to help educate long-term care facilities about the early warning signs. A lot of patients from these places already have it by the time they get here and by then it’s too late.”

How You Can Help Prevent Infections

  • Follow infection control requirements (e.g., hand hygiene) and ensure patients receive recommended vaccines (e.g., flu and pneumococcal).
  • Educate patients and their families. Stress the need to prevent infections, manage chronic conditions, and seek care if signs of severe infection or sepsis are present.
  • Think sepsis. Know sepsis signs and symptoms to identify and treat patients early.
  • Act fast. If sepsis is suspected, order tests to determine if an infection is present, where it is, and what caused it. Start antibiotics and other medical care immediately. Document antibiotic dose, duration, and purpose.
  • Check patient progress frequently. Reassess antibiotic therapy 24-48 hours or sooner to change therapy as needed. Be sure the antibiotic type, dose, and duration are correct.
    Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Learn more about Sepsis on our website. 

Partners in the Southern Maryland Sepsis Collaborative

Purpose of Collaborative

  • Offer education
  • Facilitate networking
  • Establish joint problem solving

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

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.

Meet General and Bariatric Surgeon, Nicholas Tapazoglou, MD

Board certified in general surgery and fellowship trained in bariatric surgery, Dr. Tapazoglou specializes in minimally-invasive and laparoscopic procedures.

HELPING TO HEAL A HERNIA

“I offer laparoscopic preperitoneal inguinal hernia surgery, which means instead of entering through the abdomen, I go between the abdomen and hernia. This procedure is known to result in fewer complications and less pain for patients. It’s an outpatient procedure, after which patients leave the hospital from the recovery room.”

HERNIA AND REFLUX RELATIONSHIP

“A hiatal hernia occurs in the diaphragm and often goes hand-in-hand with reflux. Typically, a hiatal hernia is not something you know you have, but rather something you find out about through imaging from your doctor. I offer both hiatal hernia repair and anti-reflux procedures. Basically, if you have severe reflux that’s not being managed by medications, or if you have Barrett’s Esophagus or a known hiatal hernia, you can qualify for these procedures.” 

BARIATRIC BREAKTHROUGH

“No one else in this region is performing bariatric weight loss surgery so I wanted to bring that here for the residents of this area. Currently, we are working with MedStar Washington Hospital Center’s Bariatric Surgery Program to bring bariatric surgery to MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital. I have patients here who are nearing completion of or who have already completed the extensive pre-operative preparation for bariatric
surgery, so we know there’s definitely an interest.”

BENEFITS OF BARIATRIC SURGERY

“Patients can lose 60 to 70 percent of excess body weight, which can extend their life expectancy by 10 to 20 years and improve their quality of life by 95 percent. All types of medical problems are often resolved after bariatric surgery and it reduces the risk of just about every kind of cancer.”

CONSIDERING BARIATRIC SURGERY

Many insurance companies offer coverage for weight loss surgeries, but some do not. Before talking to a specialist, contact your insurance company to determine what is covered under your specific policy.

General and Bariatric Surgeon
Conveniently Located in Leonardtown

Dr. Tapazoglou’s office is in the hospital’s Outpatient Pavilion, located at 25500 Point Lookout Road in Leonardtown.

Contact Us Today

MedStarStMarys.org/SpecialtyPhysicians
or call 240-434-4088 for an appointment.

A Prescription for Change: Combating Maryland’s Opioid Epidemic

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.