New Anne Arundel Health Officer Tonii Gedin is carrying out her mission to direct county resources to address health care access gaps across the county and offered updates to the County Council on her progress this week.
Gedin was formally appointed to the role in July following the departure of Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman who was recruited to the state health department. She started with the county department in 2020 as deputy health officer.
In a July interview with The Capital, Gedin expressed her desire to use her new position to lead the department in addressing health disparities across race, location and socio-economic class. At the county’s biannual Board of Health meeting Tuesday, she briefed members of the council, which also serves as the Board of Health, on new department programs to distribute opioid overdose medication in underserved communities, examine solutions to the county’s maternal mortality and infant death rates, and the troubling trends in cannabis intoxication.
So far this year the county has logged a total of 539 opioid overdoses on its digital dashboard. That’s a roughly 2% decrease from last year’s total of 551 over the same time period. . Fatal overdoses have seen a more dramatic drop, with 79 this year compared to 96 last year, an 18% decrease.
“I think there are a number of interventions that have led to this but one that is really, really important is the use of Naloxone within the community,” Gedin said at the meeting. “People are surviving and that is crucial.”
The department is placing seven Naloxone dispensing machines around the county within the next few months. They will be located near sites with higher overdose rates. Each machine will be free for residents and, beside doses of Naloxone, an opioid overdose treatment that typically costs about $45 a package, will likely also include masks, COVID tests and hygiene kits as well as fentanyl test strips to help those actively using drugs to see if their substances have been laced with the highly potent opioid pain reliever.
Kristy Blalock, executive director for Gaudenzia Addiction Treatment and Recovery Services’ Maryland operations, including the Crownsville and Glen Burnie sites, said this could be a game-changer for the county’s recovering community.
The machines will give residents greater access to these products, and will “help reduce fear of stigma and will allow the community to feel better equipped should they witness an opioid overdose,” Blalock said in an email.
Six of the machines were funded with about $25,800 from the state and one with about $4,300 from the county . The county funding came from a spring 2022 legal settlement with opioid manufacturers, department spokesperson Megan Pringle said.
Machines will be placed at the Ordnance Road Correctional Center, Jennifer Road Detention Center, Glen Burnie Health Center, Severn Intergenerational Center, Deale Library, either the Brooklyn Park or Glen Burnie Library and one somewhere in Annapolis.
Maternal mortality rates have been steadily climbing across the U.S. in recent years and are disproportionately affecting Black mothers. About 55 Black women died in Maryland per every 100,000 live births in 2020, the most recent data the state has, Gedin noted. It’s a rate about three times higher than that of white women.
At the last Board of Health meeting in May, Gedin said she planned to create a task force to look at these issues and research what can be done to improve health outcomes for moms of color.
The Maternal and Infant Health Task Force will launch Nov. 9 and be co-chaired by Gedin and Dr. Monica Jones, system chair of Luminis Health Women’s and Children Service Line and include members from surrounding health care entities, private doctors and social services professionals.
Gedin explained that one aim of this work is “making sure that women understand their ability to advocate for themselves, what the outcomes are, what it really takes to advocate for yourself when you’re not necessarily the expert in talking to medical providers but you’re the expert on you.”
County residents have been admitted to the hospital for cannabis intoxication more frequently in recent months, Gedin said. While 58 residents aged 21 to 44 were hospitalized for cannabis-related health issues between July and September 2022, approximately 115 were hospitalized between July and September 2023, or roughly double.
As of July 1, individuals 21 and older can legally use, possess and consume up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis flower, 12 grams of concentrated cannabis, or a total amount of cannabis products that does not exceed 750 mg of THC in Maryland. This amount is known as the “personal use amount.”
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“What we found fascinating when we pulled this data is that the increase in cannabis-related hospitalizations actually started prior to legalization,” Gedin said. “There’s a lot of guesses. Nothing substantiated as to why that is.”
Hospitalizations for cannabis intoxication have also risen steadily in recent months for residents aged 5 to 20 and 45 and older, Gedin said.
“Making sure that parents know how to safely store it away from children is one of the things that we’ll probably be focusing really heavily on particularly with edibles,” she said.
Gedin said cannabis intoxication manifests differently depending on the person.
The county is attempting to use the available information to find solutions.
“We’re still working on it,” Gedin said.
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