In Maryland, Preventing Overdoses Just Got Easier

By Keri Blakinger 01/07/16

Naloxone availability is much needed, as overdose deaths have increased by 60% in Maryland from 2010 to 2014. 

Maryland Photo via Shutterstock

Using authority granted by a new law, Dr. Howard Haft—a deputy secretary at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene—issued a statewide standing order permitting pharmacists to dispense naloxone without a prescription to anyone certified through the Overdose Response Program. 

The program began in March 2014 and, since then, 13,000 people have completed it and received certification. Even more broadly, the standing order allows healthcare providers to prescribe the drug to anyone they think might be in a position to use it in helping to prevent an overdose. 

Naloxone is used to reverse the effects of heroin, painkillers, and other opioids but until now, it hasn’t been so easily available. 

With the new change, although it’s not necessarily covered by insurance, certificate-holders can purchase the drug in pharmacies across the state, without a prescription. Essentially, a standing order amounts to a statewide prescription. 

As it turns out, that standing order hasn’t come a moment too soon. Across different types of drugs, overdose deaths increased by 60% in Maryland from 2010 to 2014. According to a department release, “Eighty-six percent of all overdose deaths in 2014 were opioid-related and potentially could have been prevented had naloxone been administered in a timely manner.” That amounts to 887 heroin overdose deaths in 2014, up 76% from 2010. 

The law that’s allowing the new and much-needed accessibility to the drug is a Good Samaritan law that passed earlier this year. Importantly, it provides legal immunity to anyone trying to help someone who has overdosed. 

The newfound naloxone accessibility falls in line with calls from a task force that released its findings earlier this month. In addition to outlining the need for better access to treatment and the creation of a recovery unit for drug-addicted inmates, the task force also pointed to a need for better overdose prevention measures. 

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.