The month of November saw a spike in the number of drug and alcohol overdoses in Carroll County, including nine deaths — the most overdose fatalities in a month in 2019 so far.
The total number of overdoses in November — 43, which includes nonfatal overdoses — represents an increase over the 33 total overdoses in October, as well as the 30 total overdoses seen in November 2018.
Those statistics are the latest from the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office, which tracks overdoses associated with various drugs and substances on a monthly basis. The report also shows that while November saw a spike in fatal overdoses compared to the other months of 2019 — and more deaths even than any November since 2015 — the overall trend in fatal overdoses is still downward. There were 52 overdose deaths in Carroll from January through November, whereas there were 68 such deaths in that same 11-month period in 2018, a 23.5% decrease.
Certain drug-specific deaths are also still trending downward in year-over-year comparisons, according to the report. Deaths related to heroin decreased from 13 such deaths from January through November of 2018 to nine such deaths during that period in 2019. There were 36 fentanyl-related deaths from January through November in 2018, and 23 in 2019.
And with total overdoses, the year-over-year comparison still exhibits a downward trend, according to the report. There were 474 total overdoses from January through November in 2018, and 399 in that same period in 2019, a 16% decrease.
But whether that downward trend is a lasting one, or the sharp increase in November portends a return to mounting overdoses, Carroll County Health Officer Ed Singer cannot yet say.
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“With the statistics, it’s definitely hard to say there is an uptick over this short period of time,” he said. “We will continue to monitor the data — we hope it’s only a blip.”
When statistics showing the beginnings of a downward trend in overdose numbers first began coming out earlier in 2019, Singer was cautiously optimistic, but noted even at that time that he would like to see two to three years of consistent data before he was ready to declare there was a lasting trend in any direction. Efforts to reduce overdoses in the short term are important, he noted, but only long-term efforts can, in his opinion, create a lasting change.
“While a lot of our treatment and intervention programs are important to impacting those short-term statistics that we see, I want to emphasize that we need to keep a focus on long-term prevention overall for the well-being of the people in our community,” Singer said. “I don’t think we’re ever going to resolve the problem in the long term if we are not focused on that.”
Singer likens the effort to combat opioid drug overdoses to the campaign against smoking and tobacco use, which took years and years of education and work to change attitudes, particularly among youth. And when it comes to youth, there’s other challenges in addition to opioids, from vaping to alcohol and other drugs, and long-term prevention efforts can address them all.
“Addiction is not a problem that is limited to opioids,” Singer said. “I think sometimes we are really missing that point. Our prevention efforts can’t be limited.”
And then, at the same time, there are still those ongoing efforts to keep people from overdosing on drugs today and tomorrow, according to Carroll County Sheriff Jim DeWees.
“The fight is day-to-day, week-to-week and month-to-month,” DeWees wrote in an email. “As encouraging as the numbers have been over the past several months, November’s report is a stark reminder that we have much work to do!”