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According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Maryland is among the top five states with the highest rates of fatal overdoses related to opioid use.

Bethesda struggles with substance abuse and overdose just like the rest of Maryland. The city is doing its part to address the problem through prevention and intervention efforts.


Since 1999, the rate of fatal overdoses in Maryland has been 1.5 to three times higher than the national average each year. Prescription opioids, heroin, and fentanyl are the biggest culprits for causing overdose-related deaths.

In 2016, 30 deaths per 100,000 people were related to opioids in Maryland. Nationally, this number was 13.3 deaths per 100,000 people.

Of the 1,821 fatal overdoses in Maryland in 2016, 650 were attributed to the use of synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Death rates caused by heroin and prescription opioids continue to rise. In 2012, there were 173 fatal overdoses from heroin while 2016 saw 650. Likewise, 52 deaths were attributed to prescription opioid abuse in 2012, a number that increased to 812 deaths in 2016.

The exponential rise in overdose-related deaths in Maryland over the past few years indicates a major public health crisis. The rate of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), which occurs in babies born to mothers who used opioid drugs while pregnant, rose from 6.2 births out of 1,000 in 2004 to 11.4 births out of 1,000 in 2012.

Likewise, rates of new cases of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C attributed to intravenous drug use continue to rise.


The staggering increasing rates of opioid use and overdose in Maryland reflect drug use trends across the country. Concerns for the country’s well-being grew so intense that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency in 2017. According to 2016 and 2017 data provided by HHS, 130 people die every day from opioid-related overdoses. In 2017, 42,249 people died from an opioid overdose; 15,469 deaths were attributed to heroin overdoses; and 19,413 people died from an overdose caused by synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl.

As of 2016, 11.4 million people misused prescription opioids, and 2.1 million people met the diagnostic criteria for an opioid use disorder.

These staggering numbers have been steadily increasing since the late 1990s and early 2000s when prescription opioid medications were widely overprescribed to patients. Initially, health care providers believed opioids were nonaddictive, though rates of abuse quickly proved otherwise.

The opioid overdose epidemic includes the abuse of illegal opioids, as well as prescription ones. HHS estimates prescription opioids cause 40 percent of opioid overdose deaths.

People become addicted to opioids that they obtain legally through doctors’ prescriptions as well as illegally from other sources. Some people employ a practice known as doctor shopping where they seek out prescriptions from multiple doctors at once. Other people can obtain opioids from family or friends who were given prescriptions, or they buy various forms of opioids on the street.

In response to this public health emergency, HHS has pledged to increase its efforts and support the fight against substance abuse. It aims to improve access to treatment services, promote the use of life-saving drugs that can reverse an overdose, provide better public health surveillance of the epidemic, offer better support for research on pain management and addiction, and encourage better practices for managing pain that does not begin with the prescription of opioid painkillers.



The current picture of drug use in Bethesda is reflective of drug use in Maryland and across the country.

Abuse of heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opioids continues to cause a rise in overdoses each year. In 2017, Montgomery County, which includes the city of Bethesda, saw a 44 percent increase in the number of overdoses since 2016. There were 122 overdoses in Montgomery County in 2017, 31 of which were fatal.

Of all the counties in Maryland, Montgomery ranked fifth for the most overdose deaths related to opioid use in 2016.

While overdose rates continue to rise in Montgomery County, the number of fatal overdoses remained the same from 2016 to 2017. Law enforcement officials believe this trend is due to the greater availability of overdose-reversing drugs, such as Narcan. Police officers are being trained in carrying and administering Narcan, and it is being stored in all county police stations.


Local law enforcement agencies in Montgomery County have been working with the County Council’s Public Safety and Health and Human Services Committee for many years to combat the public safety issues presented by drug abuse in the area. The Montgomery County Police Department reports, however, that the overall number of overdoses from heroin, fentanyl, and other prescription drugs continues to rise.

Law enforcement officials have been striving to make an impact on the overdose crisis by educating themselves on how to treat an overdose as well as tracking down the sources of illegal opioids. Additionally, the Stop, Triage, Engage, Educate and Rehabilitate (STEER) Program is available throughout Montgomery Country for individuals who have come into contact with law enforcement due to substance use issues.

The STEER program is described as a pre-booking law enforcement program that connects individuals with appropriate treatment programs. The program aims to quickly identify individuals struggling with or who are at risk for substance abuse, deflect them from problems associated with drug abuse and the law, and provide them with access to treatment instead of being arrested.

All participants of the STEER program are provided with a case care coordinator who quickly gets them connected with treatment services, provides referrals, and supports the engagement in and completion of treatment programs.

Inevitably, the STEER program cannot assist every individual in Bethesda or Montgomery County who is struggling with substance abuse, but it is a strong indicator of the community’s efforts toward addressing problems associated with drug use. The more people who can take advantage of community programs like this one, the stronger the Bethesda community will be able to grow and respond to public health crises like the current opioid overdose epidemic.


There are many options available for people living in Bethesda who are ready to seek treatment for a substance use disorder. They range from private treatment programs and outpatient hospital services to methadone clinics and programs offered through holistic medicine and wellness centers.

If you are not sure where to begin your search for a treatment program that will meet your needs, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers many free and confidential resources to support you.

  • SAMHSA’s National Helpline, (800) 662-HELP, is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It offers free and confidential consultation services and referrals for appropriate treatment.
  • SAMSHA’s online Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator allows you to search for treatment programs in your area.
  • If you are struggling with an opioid use disorder, SAMHSA has an Opioid Treatment Program Directory where you can search for treatment programs by state and then the city.
  • Since many people who struggle with substance abuse also struggle with mental illness as well, SAMHSA also offers an Early Serious Mental Illness Treatment Locator, which can be browsed by state.

No matter what your needs, goals, and preferences are for treatment, there are programs available to help you get on the path to recovery. NIDA explains that effective drug addiction treatment programs meet the individual needs of every client by providing a comprehensive set of services through individual treatment planning.


While drug abuse rates continue to increase in Bethesda and across Montgomery County, so do the efforts of drug abuse prevention and treatment. Recent data shows that rates of overdoses continue to rise, but fatal overdoses are on the decline.

While drug abuse is far from being controlled in Bethesda, steps are being taken in the right direction that will lead to healthier and less risky drug use habits. Local law enforcement agencies are working hard with community programs to educate people on safe drug use and how to prevent overdoses from becoming fatal.

With time, the city is likely to see more positive drug use statistics, as more people take advantage of the growing number of addiction treatment services available to those in need.


(February 2018). Maryland Opioid Summary. National Institute on Drug Abuse. from

(July 2017). Opioid Overdoses Continue to Increase in Montgomery County. Bethesda Magazine. from

(April 2017). Secretary Price Announces HHS Strategy for Fighting Opioid Crisis. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. from

(March 2017). Stop, Triage, Engage, Educate and Rehabilitate (STEER) Program. Addiction Policy Forum. from

(September 2018). What is the U.S. Opioid Epidemic? U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. from

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