Opening salvo against overdose deaths
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has declared a state of emergency, and it’s not because of a recent natural disaster where lives were lost, but rather due to an epidemic that is taking lives at a rampant rate.
Opioid overdose deaths are on the rise not only in Maryland, but nationally. As we reported recently, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reported that from Januar y through September 2016, numbers of overdose fatalities saw a sharp spike compared to the previous period in 2015. Charles County saw the greatest leap in numbers with 34 unintentional drug and alcohol intoxica- tion-related deaths — approximately a 227 percent jump from the 15 fatalities recorded during this time in 2015, the data indicates. Comparatively, Calvert County with 18 fatalities and St. Mary’s County with 12 each increased by two deaths. Collectively as a state, Maryland saw 1,468 fatalities through the third-quarter 2016, about a 62 percent increase from 904 deaths in 2015. In 2010, this figure was 465. On Wednesday, Hogan signed an executive order calling for a state of emergency, similar to what other jurisdictions around the country are doing to immediately address the rising heroin and opioid use and overdose issues. As we reported in January, many people who use opioids, mainly Fentanyl, are initially prescribed due to an ailment, and when the prescription runs out, the cheaper alternative to the opioid addiction is heroin. Fentanyl is also mixed with heroin to increase its potency, also increasing the risk of overdose. Hogan said Wednesday that he plans to send to the Maryland General Assembly a supplemental budget request of $50 million for a five-year plan to fund programs to support law enforcement, drug treatment and prevention efforts.
This announcement shows that the governor is taking the epidemic seriously, as we all should. The numbers are there to support that this isn’t a knee-jerk response to a few isolated incidents. It’s happening all over the country. But as some critics have pointed out, the governor should do more than throw money at the problem. Of course, this shouldn’t be Hogan’s problem to solve alone. As private citizens, we should be looking to support those with these addictions and do our best to steer them toward help, before, at the very least, they wind up in a jail cell, or, much worse, dead.
Those who become addicted to these substances often rob friends, family and strangers to support their habit, be it rummaging through an unlocked car looking for loose change, to burglarizing a neighbor’s home looking for pills or cash or valuables to pawn. The addiction just doesn’t affect that person: It has the potential to affect any of us caught on the periphery of the addict.
Hogan’s announcement Wednesday was a welcome boost to the ongoing uphill battle. More steps need to be made at all levels of government. This is a very real problem all of us should be finding ways to combat.