The most recent data on fatal overdoses in Maryland, released at the end of January, offer at least one positive sign: the total number of heroin-related and prescription opioid-related deaths shows a slight drop. Through the third quarter of 2017, the number of heroin-related deaths fell by 56 and the number of prescription opioid-related deaths fell by 11, compared to the same period in 2016.
Among the factors contributing to positive movement is the work of hospitals to implement emergency department prescribing guidelines, and the dispensation of the life-saving opioid reversal drug Naloxone.
Still, there is much work to be done. Despite the drop in heroin and prescription opioid deaths, the total death count rose, to 1,705 for the first nine months of 2017. The Maryland Department of Health pointed to fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, as the culprit.
One of the ways hospitals as a field are addressing this critical state issue is by sharing with legislators our Roadmap to an Essential, Comprehensive System of Behavioral Health Care for Maryland. This plan was produced by MHA’s Behavioral Health Task Force after the more than 20 hospital CEOs and other leaders who volunteered to be on this ongoing task force spent more than two years examining the state’s behavioral health crisis and response. It offers five comprehensive recommendations to help the estimated one in five Marylanders who face mental health or substance use disorders:
- Provide all patients with behavioral health screenings and, if necessary, referrals, as part of their routine care, regardless of setting.
- Create the infrastructure needed to provide immediate access to care for those experiencing a behavioral health crisis.
- Integrate and coordinate behavioral health care so it is delivered in the appropriate setting.
- Invest in the highly skilled workforce and physical capacity needed to proactively manage behavioral health conditions.
- Invest in and make available prevention and harm reduction services like syringe exchanges and mental health first aid.
While no omnibus behavioral health legislation has materialized this session, some of these recommendations may be included in individual bills. Keep an eye on the “At Work in Annapolis” weekly feature in MHA’s Friday Update to get the latest on behavioral health legislation and other health-related bills.