County’s Substance Abuse Rate Ranks 2nd In State

BERLIN – Substance abuse rates in Worcester County are second only to substance abuse rates in Baltimore City, a state-commissioned report has concluded.

The news did not shock local health department personnel.

“It sort of reinforced something we’ve been trying to point out to state funders for years – that Worcester County is a unique county,” said Marty Pusey, director of prevention for Worcester County’s Health Department.

Worcester County’s status as an intensely visited tourist destination combined with the high unemployment and low incomes for many residents result in high substance abuse rates, according to Pusey.

The official population of Worcester County, 50,000 residents, does not tell the whole story.

“The reality is on any given day we have many more than 50,000 people in Worcester County especially in the summer season, on weekends and holidays,” Pusey said. “In addition, we know Worcester County has problems within our own local population with substance abuse.”

A seasonal economy means people suffer from unemployment and those that are employed often earn very little.

Pusey said that 70 percent of people the health department treats for substance abuse make less than $30,000 a year and 65 percent of those treated have no health insurance.

“We have some serious socio-economic concerns in Worcester County even though we are often championed as a wealthy county because of our income from our property taxes,” Pusey said.

Substance abuse does cut across all income levels, she said, but those living on less use substances like alcohol to cope with a multitude of problems, from economic woes to mental health concerns.

Alcohol is the most abused substance in Worcester County, the report confirms.

According to the report, Worcester County’s alcohol arrest rates are the highest in the state and are 2.5 times higher than Alleghany County, the next on that measure. Worcester’s alcohol arrest rates are as high as the drug arrest rates in Baltimore City. Interestingly, Baltimore City showed the lowest alcohol arrest rate in the state.

Fifty-three percent of those treated for addictions by the local health department are treated for alcohol abuse with 21 percent treated for marijuana addiction, 17 percent treated for crack cocaine or cocaine addiction and 8 percent treated for addiction to opiates. While many involved in substance abuse arrests seek treatment in their home counties or states, visitors and short-term summer residents do access short-term interventions.

Worcester County also sits third in substance abuse mortality in the state of Maryland, according to the report.

Substance abuse treatment admission rates were highest in Baltimore City, followed by Worcester and the rest of the lower Eastern Shore.

Treatment is becoming scarcer, Pusey said, with the vast budget reductions by the state, which largely funds the health department.

“This makes it really hard as we see an increase in caseload with increased needs and more people seeking help,” she said.

Although Worcester County handles a disproportionate amount of substance abuse problems, the state funds local efforts based on the official, year-round population.

“We need to serve everyone here in our county when they’re here,” said Pusey.

The report concluded that further research on treatment options in Worcester County and Baltimore City are needed.