SALISBURY – The number of overdose deaths and emergency department visits relating to opioids have decreased, but health officials in Wicomico County have noted an uptick in other public health issues.
On Tuesday, Wicomico County Health Officer Lori Brewster presented a report on the health of the county to the Wicomico County Council.
Last year, Brewster said Wicomico County experienced a significant decrease in overdose deaths related to opioids, which she attributed to the success of a Community Outreach Addictions Team (COAT) program that charges peer support specialists with experience in addiction to assist people into treatment.
“We are also seeing a decline in the other two counties because of the COAT team as well,” she said. “So the Lower Shore is seeing a decline in overdose deaths, which is a big plus for us.”
Councilman Marc Kilmer asked Brewster if other drugs were a contributing factor to overdose deaths reported in Maryland.
“Are there any overdose deaths from other drugs?” he said. “Is this almost exclusively an opioid problem?”
While she noted some fatal overdoses involving prescription medication, Brewster attributed most of the state’s overdose deaths to heroin and fentanyl.
“Primarily it is the opioids that are causing the overdose deaths that the nation is seeing and that Maryland is seeing,” she said. “We have been on the state’s map as the county that has seen the most significant decline. I take that as a plus for Wicomico County, as well as for the state.”
Brewster also noted a decline in the number of overdose cases that arrive at Peninsula Regional Medical Center (PRMC) and its emergency department.
“We saw over a 50-percent decline from 2016 to 2017, and we are still seeing a little bit of a decline,” she said.
Despite the promising numbers, Brewster said the county did experience an uptick in overdose cases that arrived in the emergency department in March.
“Someone presented the possible reason for that being people have access to expendable income because tax refunds came in in the month of March,” she said, “but we are not really sure.”
Brewster told the council that Wicomico County also reported a number of cases related to the use of synthetic cannabinoids, or synthetic marijuana, contaminated with rat poisoning.
“We haven’t seen any deaths in Wicomico County because of this,” she said, “but we have seen cases in Wicomico County.”
Brewster added that Wicomico also reported fewer cases of chlamydia infections, but more cases of gonorrhea.
“We are doing a lot of work with a task force that includes the school system, a number of community members and Salisbury University to try to get messaging out relating to the whole issue of gonorrhea and chlamydia infections so we can drive down that rate,” she said.
Based on statewide reports, Brewster said Wicomico County ranks No. 4 in the number of chlamydia cases and No. 1 in the number of gonorrhea cases.
“I don’t like being No. 1 in the state for anything unless it’s positive,” she said.
Brewster also reported the success of a new Salisbury Wicomico Integrated First Care Team, a pilot program that targets and provides resources for high utilizers of the 911 system and emergency department.
“We are seeing a lot of success with that,” she said. “The first six months were funded by a CareFirst grant the health department wrote for and received, and now the commission is continuing this for another two years.”
Council President John Cannon praised the county’s efforts to address public health issues, namely the ongoing opioid epidemic.
“I hope people recognize to what length you’ve gone with this opioid issue,” he said. “It’s very unusual … that the numbers are trending down instead of up. That’s a great tribute to the work that you are doing.”