Drug overdose has become a serious public health challenge in Maryland and across the country. Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene statistics show state overdose deaths from prescription opioids continues to rise. From January to September 2016, there were 317 prescription opioids overdose deaths, up from 270 in 2015. More concerning is the spike in Heroin and Fentanyl , two cheaper, more easily obtainable alternatives for opioid users. Deaths from those drugs during the same time period more than doubled, rising to 1,656 in 2016 from 726 in 2015. 

Due to the progressive nature of this issue, a statewide strategy for reducing overdose deaths related to pharmaceutical opioids and heroin called the Overdose Response Program (ORP). This program was launched in 2014 to train and certify qualified individuals most able to assist someone at risk of dying from an opioid overdose when emergency medical services are not immediately available. Successfully trained individuals will receive a certificate allowing them to obtain a prescription for naloxone (Narcan®), a life-saving medication that can quickly restore the breathing of a person who has overdosed on heroin or prescription opioid pain medication like oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, fentanyl or methadone.

What Is Drug Addiction?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is a chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences. The initial decision to take drugs is voluntary for most people, but repeated drug use can lead to brain changes that challenge an addicted person’s self-control and interfere with their ability to resist intense urges to take drugs. 

These brain changes can be persistent, which is why drug addiction is considered a "relapsing" disease—people in recovery from drug use disorders are at increased risk for returning to drug use even after years of not taking the drug. It's common for a person to relapse, but relapse doesn't mean that treatment doesn’t work. As with other chronic health conditions, treatment should be ongoing and should be adjusted based on how the patient responds. Treatment plans need to be reviewed often and modified to fit the patient’s changing needs.

Opioid Addiction

Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin as well as powerful pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, fentanyl, and many others utilized for the treatment of moderate to severe pain. Repeated administration of opioid drugs (prescription or heroin) can cause the production of endogenous opioids (growing from within), which accounts in part for the discomfort that ensues when the drugs are discontinued, better known as withdrawal. Opioid medications can produce a sense of well-being and pleasure because these drugs affect brain regions involved in reward.

The emergence of chemical tolerance toward prescribed opioids combined with an increasing difficulty to obtain opioids after a prescription runs out is often thought to explain the transition to abuse of heroin, which is cheaper and in some communities easier to obtain than prescription opioids.

Side Effects

Possible health effects of opioids include pain relief, drowsiness, nausea, constipation, euphoria, and confusion. When used in combination with alcohol, opioids can cause a dangerous slowing of heart rate and breathing leading to coma or death. Restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes with goose bumps, and leg movements are all common withdrawal symptoms.

Resources for Responsible Medication Management

Visit HealthyStMarys.com/SmartRX for more information about a variety of opioid-related topics including alternative treatments for chronic pain, the prescription drug monitoring program and the harms and benefits of opioid therapy. Contact information for area treatment options are also available on this site.

Opioid Response Program

The St. Mary’s County Health Department is offering the Overdose Response Program for free to community members who may be able to save the life of someone experiencing breathing problems from opioid overdose.  Participants in the training will learn how to recognize the signs and symptoms of opioid overdose, the importance of calling 9-1-1 in medical emergencies, as well as how to administer naloxone and care for someone until emergency help arrives. Successfully trained individuals will receive a certificate allowing them to obtain a prescription for naloxone (Narcan®), a life-saving medication that can quickly restore the breathing of a person who has overdosed on heroin or prescription opioid pain medication like oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, fentanyl or methadone. 

You can find and register for an upcoming class here. Please contact the St. Mary's County Health Department at 301-475-4297 if you have any questions about the ORP or this application.

Prescribing Naloxone

The establishment of the ORP and its authorizing regulation now allow clinicians to prescribe take-home naloxone and the equipment associated with administration to qualified individuals who would then administer the medicine to others who might be overdosing on opioids. Learn more about prescribing Naloxone

Dispose of Medicines Properly

Consumers can help reduce prescription drug abuse rates by safely disposing of prescriptions through participation in the St. Mary’s County Drug Drop-Off Program. The St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office has a prescription drug drop-off available 24 hours a day 7 days a week. It’s located in the front lobby of the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office in Leonardtown and is completely anonymous. Simply remove all identifying information on labels and place in one of the two drop boxes.

Need Help?

Maryland's Crisis Hotline is available 24/7 to provide support, guidance, and assistance. 

Call 1-800-422-0009 or 800-662-HELP (4357)


Click here for a full list of local treatment resources.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

NIDA is a learning resource tool for parents, teachers, and teens to learn about how drugs affect the brain and the body through digital platforms. Visit their website today.

Lock Your Medications

Lock Your Meds® is a national multi-media campaign designed to reduce prescription drug abuse by making adults aware that they can be the “unwitting suppliers” of prescription medications being used in unintended ways, especially by young people.  Many valuable resources are available for parents and adults at lockyourmeds.org.

Did You Know?

In June 2017, a statewide standing order issued by Howard Haft, MD, Maryland Department of Health, allows pharmacists to dispense Naloxone to anyone without a paper or electronic prescription. The pharmacist at MedStar Pharmacy is available to speak with you about opioid medications and how to obtain Naloxone.