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Editorial: Naloxone just part of solution to overdose epidemic

It's no secret that opioid drug and heroin use and overdoses have been on the rise across the nation over the past few years, and Maryland and Carroll County have been no exceptions to this deadly trend.

Back in February, shortly after taking office, Gov. Larry Hogan announced the formation of both the Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force — a panel of top physicians, legal experts and law enforcement offices — and the Inter-Agency Coordinating Council — which brought together the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, or DHMH, the Maryland State Police, the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention and other agencies — to push back against the epidemic.

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Earlier this month, the Heroin and Opioid Task Force published its final report making more than 30 recommendations for addressing the drug overdose problem. Among those recommendations were providing better treatment to drug offenders in jail, better coordination between law enforcement and public health officials, and expanded access to overdose antidote naloxone and training in its use.

Over the next few days, as part of our series called Fighting Back, we will publish stories going into further detail about efforts in the county focusing on treating addiction, recovering from addiction, and education about addiction to opioids and heroin. Today, we focused on the administration of naloxone.

These initiatives already seem to be having some positive impact. Through Nov. 30, there had been 11 fatal overdoses in 2015, down from 15 one year ago, according to data from the Carroll County Sheriff's Office.

Statewide, through the first half of 2015 there were 648 heroin and opioid drug-related deaths, according to the most recent DHMH statistics available. That's still more than the first six months of 2014, when 579 people died, but the pace has slowed compared to the year-over-year numbers from 2013 to 2014, when overdose deaths spiked by more than 200.

Getting naloxone in the hands of more people has been a major reason for stemming that tide. While Naloxone had long been used by emergency medical personnel, it wasn't until March 2014 that civilians — including users — could receive training in the use of Naloxone and fill a prescription for two doses of the drug. After a legal change, law enforcement officers also began carrying the antidote. Between July 2014 and June 2015, DHMH reported 131 administrations of naloxone by law enforcement and trained civilians, and from July 1 and Dec. 18, there have been 130 reported administrations.

DHMH issued an order less than two weeks ago that will allow pharmacies to dispense naloxone without a doctor's prescription to anyone who has completed a training class; this should also allow more people to carry the antidote.

Any initiative that can can save lives is worthwhile. But while having more people trained to administer naloxone will certainly save lives in the short term, it doesn't address the big-picture problem of addiction.

We can't rest on our laurels and, fortunately, we think Carroll County officials across health, law enforcement, government and education understand this. We've seen several initiatives put in place this year to address treating addiction, assisting those in recovery, and educating people both before and after they've become addicted, that will be outlined in more detail over the next few days.

Preventing overdose deaths is important, but a true holistic approach to the problem is what is needed at all levels. Carroll is ahead of the curve here, and while completely eradicating addiction is impossible, continuing to fight back against addiction must be a top priority as we enter 2016.

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