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Maryland deaths from prescription opioids could outpace those caused by heroin for first time in 10 years

Phil Davis, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in News & Features

Pandemic prescription changes

When the coronavirus pandemic first forced businesses to close and people to socially distance from one another, Hogan, other state officials and local leaders worked to make sure people could continue receiving goods and services. Restaurants delivered alcohol, schools taught over the internet and doctors provided more medical services, including prescriptions and refills, over the phone or via video conferencing.

The logic was to reduce in-person visits to minimize the potential spread of COVID-19.

“That was important to do because you have a fair number of patients who use opioids legitimately,” said Dr. Paul Christo, associate professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Behavioral Health System Baltimore, a nonprofit organization that acts as the city’s mental health agency, awarded $106,000 in to 15 organizations in fiscal year 2021 to fund the purchase of laptops, tablets and other technology for a more telehealth-centric approach to patient care. According to Adrienne Breidenstine, the organization’s vice president of policy and communications, it received requests for more than $300,000 worth of equipment.

Hogan’s executive orders that lifted restrictions on prescriptions ended Aug. 15.


Blalock said blame for increased deaths doesn’t lie with the governor’s executive orders or any policy changes. But she urged the state to use the data and other resources, like its Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, to try to target the physicians writing problematic prescriptions.

“Because we know if it’s not addressed now at the physician level, it will become a state crisis,” she said.

Isolation during the pandemic

The worry is that Maryland, which is still tackling a fentanyl crisis that killed nearly seven people per day in 2020, could repeat past mistakes by allowing the creation of a cohort of people who will turn to street drugs once their prescriptions become harder to fill.


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