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Maryland Opioid Fatality Rate Begins to Stabilize

For immediate release: March 24, 2020

Slight Decline for 2019 Marks First Year of Fewer Deaths Statewide in Over a Decade

ANNAPOLIS, MD – The Hogan-Rutherford administration today announced that opioid-related fatalities in Maryland fell slightly in 2019 when compared to 2018. This marks a stabilization in the rate of opioid fatalities in the state and the first year without an increase in opioid fatalities since the current epidemic began over a decade ago. Preliminary data show that there were 2,090 opioid-related deaths in the state in 2019, compared to 2,143 deaths in 2018 – a decline of 53 deaths statewide.

These figures were published in the state’s 2019 Annual Report, which was released jointly by the Opioid Operational Command Center (OOCC) and the Maryland Department of Health (MDH). The report outlines preliminary data for unintentional drug- and alcohol-related intoxication deaths for the period between January and December 2019. The report also provides an overview of the state’s annual strategic plan for addressing the opioid epidemic, as well as information on grant programs that the OOCC administers to support Maryland’s fight against the crisis.

“The Hogan-Rutherford administration has been aggressively fighting this epidemic for the last five years through a holistic, multi-pronged approach involving prevention and education, treatment and recovery, and enforcement and public safety efforts. The slight decrease in opioid-related fatalities in 2019 is a welcome development and reassures us that our response is making a difference statewide,” said Lt. Governor Boyd K. Rutherford. “We will continue to draw on every resource at our disposal and involve experts from across the state as we carry on with our efforts to save lives.”

Since taking office in 2015, Governor Larry Hogan and Lt. Governor Rutherford have overseen a comprehensive and highly coordinated response to the opioid epidemic, investing nearly $1 billion in statewide efforts annually. In his role as the chair of both the Maryland Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force and the Inter-Agency Heroin and Opioid Coordinating Council, Lt. Gov. Rutherford – at the request of Governor Hogan – has led Maryland’s response effort, which incorporates resources from a vast partnership of state and local agencies and private sector partners.

“We have reached an important milestone in the fight against the opioid epidemic, but a continued and collective effort is still required from all involved partners. This fight has been a top priority since day one and will remain a top priority moving forward,” said Governor Hogan. “Today’s news indicates that we are on the right track coming out of 2019, and we are going to stay on that track in 2020 by continuing to evaluate our efforts and invest in the initiatives that show the most promise.”

“We are starting to turn the corner in our fight, but getting to this point has not been easy,” said Steve Schuh, Executive Director of the Opioid Operational Command Center. “Our partners from across the state – in both the public and the private sectors – have spent many years working collaboratively to make Maryland a healthier place.”

The OOCC works closely with over 20 state agencies, 24 local-jurisdictional opioid intervention teams, and innumerable private sector organizations throughout the state. One of the center’s primary functions is coordinating jurisdictional response efforts to ensure that best practices and informational resources are in place and working effectively. This coordinated response is outlined in the state’s annual substance use disorder response plan, entitled Maryland’s Inter-Agency Opioid Coordination Plan.

The preliminary data published in the annual report indicate that the total number of unintentional intoxication deaths from all types of drugs and alcohol in Maryland in 2019 was 2,358, a decrease of 2 percent from 2018. Opioids were involved in 88.6 percent of all such fatalities. Most drug- and alcohol-related fatalities involved more than one substance (polysubstance use).

Among all opioids, the synthetic opioid fentanyl continues to be the leading cause of unintentional intoxication deaths. The number of fentanyl-related deaths in Maryland in 2019 was 1,916; a slight but disappointing increase of 1.5 percent from 2018. However, the rate of growth in this category was significantly lower than in 2018, when the number of fentanyl-related fatalities increased by 18.4 percent over the previous year.

Cocaine remained the second-most prevalent substance involved in drug- and alcohol-related deaths, with 862 statewide cocaine-related deaths in 2019. This number represents a decrease of 3.3 percent from 2018 and is the first decrease since 2010. In 2019, approximately 90 percent of all cocaine-related fatalities were in combination with opioids.

There were 41 methamphetamine-related deaths in 2019, an increase of 28.1 percent from 2018. Of these cases, 78 percent were in combination with opioids. Apart from fentanyl, methamphetamine was the only other major substance that saw an increase in fatalities in 2019.

There were 366 prescription opioid-related deaths in Maryland in 2019, a 3.4 percent decrease since 2018. The decline in prescription opioid-related deaths in the state began in 2017 and coincides with a period of declining opioid prescriptions according to the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP). According to the PDMP, there was nearly a 22.4 percent decrease in opioid prescriptions and a 9 percent increase in prescribers registered with the program between the years of 2017 and 2019. 

“We are attacking this problem from all angles,” said Robert Neall, Secretary of the Maryland Department of Health. “Everyone is playing a role in solving this crisis. With the help of everyone from the physicians who adjust their prescribing practices to the advocates who fight for the family members involved in this crisis, we are making real progress and we are going to do everything in our power to continue these positive trends.”

The 2019 Annual Report can be found here.

Before It’s Too Late is the state’s effort to bring awareness to the opioid epidemic and to mobilize resources for effective prevention, enforcement, and treatment. Marylanders struggling with a substance use disorder can find help at; through our state’s crisis hotline, Call 211, Press 1; or by texting their ZIP code to 898-211.