BALTIMORE – The Maryland Stop Opioid Overdose Strategy, or Maryland S-O-S program, launches town hall meetings this week to address ways to combat the health crisis that has skyrocketed during the pandemic.

Starting in Allegheny County on Thursday, the meetings are a chance for Marylanders to talk about their struggles and hear methods for helping opioid users, according to Robin Rickard, director of Maryland’s Opioid Operational Command Center.

She said officials were encouraged when the state’s opioid deaths dropped in 2019 for the first time in years. But they’re now taking a more aggressive approach.

“Right when the numbers started going down, COVID hit,” said Rickard. “So last year, Maryland went up 18%, as a nation 30%. Maryland did do better than the national average – but again, we’re not happy with that.”

She said the town halls are a chance to hear about what works and what isn’t working following the worst year on record for overdose deaths.

Thursday’s meeting at Allegheny College in Cumberland starts at 5 o’clock. More information is online at ‘,’ or on the Maryland S-O-S Facebook page.

Rickard said she thinks it’s important to realize opioid abuse isn’t just a rural problem in Maryland.

“Fentanyl is what the driving force is, and it’s everywhere,” said Rickard. “And at these Maryland town hall meetings, we will be educating the public and the community of what the statistics are in their jurisdiction, as compared to other jurisdictions.”

She pointed out the S-O-S initiative also aims to educate people about the state’s Opioid Restitution Fund. Created in 2019 by the General Assembly, it includes money from opioid manufacturers’ lawsuit settlements for treatment and recovery services.

“We’re not spending any of this money until we hear from all the Marylanders,” said Rickard, “from treatment providers, from state and local partners, because we want to make the best decisions that we possibly can.”

A record-breaking 2,500 Marylanders died of opioid overdoses in 2020.

The numbers continue to rise – from January to March of this year, 614 residents died of opioid abuse. That’s almost a 6% increase from the same time last year.

Diane Bernard, Public News Service

Diane Bernard is a digital and radio journalist based in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area with more than 10 years of journalism experience. Her print and online credits include work for The Washington...

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