Howard County park rangers recognized for saving two people who had overdosed in August

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Sep. 14—Two Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks rangers received citations Tuesday from County Executive Calvin Ball for their roles in saving the lives of two individuals who had overdosed in August.

During the ceremony at Rockburn Branch Park in Elkridge, the site of the overdoses, Ball commended park rangers Tabitha Kanagie and Ian Smith for "showing courage and compassion" when they administrated CPR and naloxone, an emergency medication for known or suspected opioid overdoses, to two individuals who were found without a pulse and not breathing Aug. 7.

"Both patients began showing signs of life [after the naloxone was administered]," Ball said. "This situation could have ended very differently if these two rangers had not been trained in our overdose response program and how to administer [naloxone] and had they not actually executed their training."

Ball noted that before the coronavirus pandemic, Howard County had made significant strides in the battle against opioid abuse, with a decrease in both fatal and nonfatal overdoses from 2017 to 2019, going from a high of 132 nonfatal overdoses in 2018 to 99 in 2019.

The pandemic, and the uncertainty it brought, increased anxiety, Ball said, and posed many challenges to those facing substance misuse. Nonfatal overdoses increased in 2020 and have remained steady in 2021, Ball said. Opioid-related deaths in Howard County saw a 43% increase in 2020 compared to 2019, Ball said, and the state also saw its highest opioid-related fatality number to date in 2020, with more than 2,500 deaths statewide. Nonfatal overdoses in the county also increased in 2020 and have remained steady in 2021, he said.

"While fatalities throughout the state continue to rise, fortunately, Howard County has begun to see a drop in fatal overdoses from [this time] last year, down over 70% from 47 to just nine," Ball said. "To keep this number down, and hopefully, bring it even lower, Howard County will need to continue its commitment to ensuring that those facing substance misuse are able to receive the care and support they need even amid a pandemic."

Ball credited the county health department for "saving lives," noting that from July 2020 to July 2021, the department trained nearly 600 people in its overdose response program, distributed 550 naloxone kits and handed out 4,500 Deterra bags, which allow for safe drug disposal.

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While encouraged by the progress being made in preventing opioid related deaths, the continuing spike in nonfatal overdoses in Howard County is "concerning," according to Dr. Roe Rodgers-Bonaccorsy, director of the Howard County Health Department Bureau of Behavioral Health.

"Our goal is to prevent all deaths and other adverse events related to substance misuse through harm reduction and eventually through resource sharing and guidance to individuals using drugs and their families in developing a recovery plan," Rodgers-Bonaccorsy said.

The department's opioid overdose response program is free and open to anyone who lives, works or goes to school in the county, Rodgers-Bonaccorsy said. Virtual trainings are also offered monthly to community members on how to identify and respond to an overdose and attendees will receive a free naloxone kit, she said.

"Most fatal opioid emergences are witnessed and patients experiencing an overdose cannot self-administer treatment," Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services Chief Louis Winston said.

"By training the average citizen on what to do in case of an overdose, including contacting an EMS, remaining with the victim until recovery and administering [naloxone], we can help to strength the chain of survival."

In their comments, Kanagie was thankful for the help they received from the Howard County fire and police departments, and Smith expressed his gratitude for "positive outcome" of the incident.

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