BERLIN – Discussions about the state’s emergency response to the opioid epidemic and the county’s battle with fentanyl and carfentanil brought forth both concern and questions from the community last week.
At last Friday’s meeting of the Worcester County Warriors Against Opiate Addiction, attendees heard from Clay Stamp, executive director of Maryland’s Opioid Operational Command Center, Tim Sponaugle, Worcester County’s heroin coordinator, and legislators about the state’s coordinated efforts in combatting the opioid epidemic.
Stamp, Ocean City’s former emergency management director and the governor’s senior emergency management advisor, has been tasked with coordinating efforts between different departments and treating the epidemic like a natural or man-made disaster.
“I recognize that this isn’t a hurricane that’s going to be over in a week,” he said. “It’s not a train wreck where we can clean up and go home. What we have to do is use a state of emergency during this mobilization period to lift this whole effort.”
In last week’s meeting, Stamp shared the importance of the emergency declaration and the state agencies that are involved.
“We were trained from day one to speak multi-disciplinary language,” he said. “We can talk to firefighters, police officers, transportation people, public health people and we can get them to talk together. We need to assemble a plan of action with clear initiatives to build a roadmap that will drive this thing at a record pace.”
Stamp said five people die from related overdoses each day in Maryland. Fifty additional citizens will survive an overdose on a daily basis. Stamp said he expects the state will exceed last year’s overdose totals of 23,000.
“You all know me,” he said. “This is my home. I feel your pain. I know what you’ve lost in here.”
One of the team’s goals, he said, is to search Maryland for best practices that can be used to save lives statewide.
“Everything that we do, under Gov. Hogan’s leadership and with the help of the legislature and your help, we do in the name of those that have fallen to this,” Stamp said. “We can’t let their deaths be in vain.”
Following Stamp, Sponaugle shared the county’s efforts and findings regarding the opioid epidemic. He said the overwhelming amount of narcotics entering the state contain fentanyl, a synthetic opioid added to or sold as other drugs.
“You cannot tell, the user can’t tell, the dealer can’t tell,” he said.
He explained that nearly a month ago, Worcester County’s narcotics task force seized 104 bags of pure fentanyl. Sponaugle said the drug is usually brought into the country by cartels and Chinese manufacturers.
“They do not care about you … they care about money,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Sponaugle said two milligrams of fentanyl, less than the size of a penny, could be lethal. But the newest drug on the scene, carfentanil, is 100 times as potent.
The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reported that this drug was found in three fatal overdoses in the state in April.
Warriors co-founder Jackie Ball asked the purpose of such a powerful drug.
“Why carfentanil when fentanyl is powerful enough?” she asked.
According to Sponaugle, one kilogram of fentanyl, costing nearly $3,000, can produce one million one-milligram doses. Pressed into pill form and sold at $15 each, Sponaugle said cartels could make $15 million conservatively.
“That’s the battle,” he said. “It’s a little discouraging, but we will not be shaken.”