Men­tal health, drug ad­dic­tion ser­vices top first re­spon­ders’ needs

Van Hollen, Hoyer host pub­lic safety dis­cus­sion in Hugh­esville

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By PAUL LAGASSE pla­gasse@somd­news.com

Easy ac­cess to opi­oids and a lack of ser­vices for men­tal health and sub­stance abuse treat­ment are key con­cerns of South­ern Mary­land’s law en­force­ment de­part­ments, emer­gency med­i­cal ser­vices and faith lead­ers, ac­cord­ing to a fo­rum held last week at the Col­lege of South­ern Mary­land’s Hugh­esville cam­pus.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md., 5th) con­vened the fo­rum at the new Cen­ter for Trades and En­ergy Train­ing fa­cil­ity to hear from first re­spon­ders, pas­tors and lo­cal elected of­fi­cials about their con­cerns and to share the lat­est in­for­ma­tion about fed­eral fund­ing for emer­gency med­i­cal pro­grams.

CSM pres­i­dent Mau­reen Mur­phy and CSM Foun­da­tion Direc­tor Emer­i­tus Steve Proc­tor mod­er­ated the 90-minute dis­cus­sion.

Hoyer said that even though the fed­eral High In­ten­sity Drug Traf­fick-

ing Area pro­gram has led to the suc­cess­ful seizure of many il­le­gal drugs that had been com­ing through Bal­ti­more, such pre­ven­tive mea­sures need to be matched with in­ter­dic­tion and treat­ment pro­grams at the lo­cal level to en­sure suc­cess.

“HIDTA tries to co­or­di­nate ef­forts so that we’re not reinventing the wheel,” Hoyer ex­plained.

At­ten­dees agreed that there was a need for more re­sources to treat men­tal health is­sues in South­ern Mary­land, in­clud­ing more hos­pi­tal beds and clin­i­cal ther­a­pists.

Van Hollen ex­plained that the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives has passed a bill that in­cludes a waiver that al­lows Med­i­caid pa­tients to ac­cess beds in pri­vate hos­pi­tals when there isn’t enough room in lo­cal pub­lic hos­pi­tals.

The Se­nate ver­sion of the bill does not in­clude that waiver, but Van Hollen said he hoped that would be rec­on­ciled in a fu­ture ver­sion.

Van Hollen said that Congress has passed a “ma­jor piece of leg­is­la­tion” that in­cludes $200 mil­lion for health cen­ters to launch or im­prove their men­tal health, sub­stance abuse and be­hav­ioral health pro­grams.

Fed­eral funds will also be avail­able for the es­tab­lish­ment of com­mu­nity be­hav­ioral health cen­ters through the leg­is­la­tion, Van Hollen said.

Hoyer ex­plained that the Charles County HITDA pro­gram was the first in the state to in­clude ad­dic­tion treat­ment in ad­di­tion to the stan­dard law-en­force­ment com­po­nents.

“It doesn’t re­ally help un­less you treat the un­der­ly­ing cause of [a per­son’s] in­ter­ac­tion with law en­force­ment,” Hoyer said. “Treat­ment is ex­pen­sive, but it’s less ex­pen­sive than tak­ing peo­ple out of the com­mu­nity and lock­ing them up.”

An­other con­cern raised was iden­tity theft, par­tic­u­larly among the re­gion’s el­derly, which is on the rise as a method of get­ting money to pur­chase il­le­gal drugs.

Par­tic­i­pants agreed that ad­dic­tion treat­ment pro­grams need to be able to ad­dress more than just opi­oid ad­dic­tion, par­tic­u­larly al­co­hol.

“We tend to fo­cus too tightly on opi­oids,” said Shawn David­son, the chief of the Lex­ing­ton Park Vol­un­teer Res­cue Squad. “Yes, ev­ery house has opi­oids whether they re­al­ize it or not, but the big­ger thing is some­thing that we leave out of the pic­ture.”

Van Hollen agreed, adding that what makes opi­oid ad­dic­tion par­tic­u­larly in­sid­i­ous is that many peo­ple be­come ad­dicted through pre­scrip­tion med­i­ca­tions fol­low­ing surgery.

“Ob­vi­ously you need pain con­trol, but there’s a bal­ance here,” Van Hollen said. “We need to take a broad ap­proach and also zero in on that part of it.”

As a way to help pre­vent ad­dic­tion, Ch­e­sa­peake Beach Mayor Pat Ma­honey stressed the im­por­tance of par­ents set­ting good ex­am­ples for their chil­dren, who are more likely to em­u­late their be­hav­iors.

Hoyer said that the prof­itabil­ity of pre­scrip­tion drugs like fen­tanyl makes it dif­fi­cult to elim­i­nate ac­cess to opi­oids through pre­scrip­tions.

“Amer­ica is a pill-tak­ing na­tion,” Hoyer said. “It’s easy for me to pop a Be­nadryl when I start sneez­ing.”

Hoyer said that the is­sue as he saw it was that Congress does not reg­u­late the costs of pre­scrip­tion medicines.

The is­sue is also com­pli­cated by the fact that mod­ern health care is driven by pa­tient sat­is­fac­tion, which means that a pa­tient who does not get the pain med­i­ca­tion he or she wants is more likely to rate a doc­tor lower on cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion sur­veys, which in turn can lead to a va­ri­ety of fi­nan­cial penal­ties.

Hoyer noted that there will be less fed­eral fund­ing avail­able for lo­cal health care pro­grams as a re­sult of the re­cently passed in­come tax cuts that will re­duce fed­eral rev­enues by $2 tril­lion over the next decade.

The chal­lenge, Hoyer said, is rec­og­niz­ing that cut­ting fund­ing to one pro­gram can have rip­ple ef­fects that af­fect oth­ers.

“We have to re­ally come to grips not just with the opi­oid cri­sis, but with other is­sues too,” Hoyer said. “When kids say that they’re afraid to go to school, we’ve got to do some­thing about that.”

“What you pay for is what you think it is worth,” Hoyer said. “I’m sure you’ve all heard that ser­mon.”

STAFF PHO­TOS BY PAUL LAGASSE

Above left, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md., 5th) dis­cusses fed­eral fund­ing avail­able to lo­cal first re­spon­ders dur­ing a fo­rum on pub­lic safety at the Col­lege of South­ern Mary­land’s Cen­ter for Trades and En­ergy Train­ing cam­pus in Hugh­esville last Wed­nes­day. Above right, Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) talks about fed­eral ef­forts to im­prove pub­lic health and safety dur­ing a fo­rum for first re­spon­ders and com­mu­nity lead­ers in Hugh­esville last week.

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