Wicomico Records Increase In Overdose Cases, Deaths

SALISBURY – Wicomico’s health officer reports the county is seeing an uptick in overdose deaths.

Last week, Health Officer Lori Brewster presented the Wicomico County Council with an update on the health of the county.

While the health department continues to monitor COVID-19 statistics, Brewster said the agency is seeing an increase in overdose cases and deaths.

“This year, we are seeing a 25% increase in our overdose deaths, which is very concerning,” she told council members. “There are about five jurisdictions in the state that are seeing a decline in their overdose deaths, but that is for the first six months of the year. The rest of the state is seeing an increase again.”

Brewster noted the county health department reported 41 overdose deaths in 2019 and 47 overdose deaths in 2020. In the first six months of 2021, the agency reported 16 deaths, or a 25% increase from January to June of 2020.

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“Just yesterday, I believe we had three overdose cases, which is very concerning,” she said. “So we’re getting out there and trying to reach these people, providing them with the resources needed so they don’t succumb to an overdose death.”

When asked if the health department continued to offer naloxone training, Brewster said it did.

“We were even offering that during COVID,” she said. “We were doing virtual training, and there’s a number of other organizations that are legally able to provide Narcan training as well.”

Brewster added the department is also increasing access to naloxone in local restaurants and businesses.

“We have recently seen an uptick in overdoses in bathrooms in businesses,” she said.

Brewster noted a town hall meeting at Salisbury University last month produced a series of recommendations to address the opioid crisis, including increasing access to resources for family members and care coordination for released inmates.

“A big one that the health department focuses on is addressing stigma throughout the community related to substance use disorders,” she said. “Believe it or not, it’s still a big issue in Wicomico County, as it is across the state, because people feel that individuals can control their use.”

Brewster told council members last week the agency continues to work with Hudson Health, and the Community Outreach Addictions Team to provide resources to community members.

“In addition, there’s going to be additional funding coming out through the opioid settlement that Wicomico County signed onto, but we don’t know how much money that’s going to be,” she said.

Councilman John Cannon asked, “Is the increase due to the fact you think there are more addicts in this area or is it simply the fact that there is more fentanyl and its more dangerous to experiment with drugs?”

Brewster said it was a number of issues.

“What we’ve seen all across the country is an isolation issue,” she added, “and people not being able to be around other people, becoming depressed and seeking out drugs to treat their mental health issues.”

During last week’s presentation, Brewster also highlighted the county’s COVID-19 statistics.

“We generally have been well above the state average for quite a while,” she said. “And if you look at our vaccination rate, we are fourth from the bottom still. We’re at 59% of residents ages 12 plus being fully vaccinated.”

Brewster added that the health department was working with the Wicomico Public Library to distribute at-home COVID testing kits.

“The state is providing us with at-home COVID test kits for distribution to the public, and the library has agreed to be the group that will provide those,” she said. “I think this will be an opportunity for people to receive at-home test kits that can’t otherwise afford them because they are pricey.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.