Lt. Gov. tells Aspen fel­lows about opi­oids

Record Observer - - Front Page - By HANNAH COMBS hcombs@ches­pub.com

QUEEN­STOWN — The Aspen In­sti­tute, an in­ter­na­tional non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that fos­ters en­light­ened lead­er­ship, the ap­pre­ci­a­tion of time­less ideas and val­ues, and open-minded di­a­logue on con­tem­po­rary is­sues, hosted Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd Ruther­ford on March 23 to speak to fel­lows and in­vited guests on the opi­oid epi­demic fac­ing Maryland and the na­tion.

Phil Web­ster, chair­man of the Aspen Wye Fel­lows, wel­comed Ruther­ford and the more than 90 at­ten­dees in­clud­ing Queen Anne’s County Sher­iff Gary Hof­mann, Ma­jor Dwayne Board­man, War­den LaMonte Cooke, Med­i­cal Direc­tor Joseph Ciotola and Emer­gency Ser­vices Direc­tor Scott Haas.

Ear­lier this month, Gover­nor Larry Ho­gan signed an ex­ec­u­tive or­der declar­ing a State of Emer­gency in re­sponse to the heroin, opi­oid and fen­tanyl ad­dic­tion cri­sis that is rav­aging Maryland com­mu­ni­ties as well as the na­tion, ex­plained Web­ster. “We are for­tu­nate to have the Lt. Gover­nor here with us,” said Web­ster.

“All of us have been touched in some way by the cri­sis af­fect­ing our state,” said Web­ster, “Look­ing at the obituaries in the Star Demo­crat so many of these are young peo­ple struck down not by ac­ci­dent or ill­ness, but by opi­oid ad­dic­tion and that just has to stop.”

Ruther­ford is spear­head­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ef­forts to save lives from this cri­sis, which is killing in­di­vid­u­als in record num­bers. Heroin deaths only con­tinue to go up, said Ruther­ford, in the last 12 months they have tripled na­tion­wide. Sixty per­cent of over­doses are re­lated di­rectly to the use of fen­tanyl, a cheap, pow­er­ful, syn­thetic opi­oid — an opi­oid com­ing il­le­gally into the countr y.

“The re­al­ity is that the heroin prob­lem in Maryland has changed with the emer­gence of cheap and po­tent syn­thetic opi­oids, which pose a new threat to our com­mu­ni­ties,” Ruther­ford.

Ruther­ford came to share the state’s plan — the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s 2017 Heroin and Opi­oid Pre­ven­tion, Treat­ment, and En­force­ment Ini­tia­tive, a multi-pronged and sweep­ing ad­min­is­tra­tive and leg­isla­tive ef­fort — to at­tack this rapidly es­ca­lat­ing threat to Maryland cit­i­zens and com­mu­ni­ties and en­gage in di­a­logue with those in at­ten­dance.

On the out­set, it was ap­par­ent that Ruther­ford is not only well versed in the ac­tual de­tails sur­round­ing the heroin epi­demic, but that he and the Gover­nor, along with the task force have and are con­tin­u­ing to gather much in­for­ma­tion and are lis­ten­ing ac­tively to not only the cit­i­zens of fam­ily mem­bers who are con­cerned, but lo­cal and state agen­cies.

Ruther­ford did not at­tempt to sugarcoat the is­sue or of­fer a sim­ple so­lu­tion to what is a very com­plex prob­lem. The prob­lem has been in ex­is­tence for many years, he said, and we are play­ing catch-up ... we are be­hind the game and ad­dress­ing the sit­u­a­tion.

One of the ini­tia­tives pro­posed is the Pre­scrip­tions Lim­its Act of 2017, the act would seek to limit an ini­tial pre­scrip­tion of opi­oids to seven days and is con­sis­tent with poli­cies in other states, said Ruther­ford. Stud­ies show that 70 to 80 per­cent of new ad­dic­tions are com­ing off of pre­scrip­tions pre­scribed by a li­censed med­i­cal doc­tor; un­for­tu­nately,the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion is see­ing re­sis­tance from some physi­cians, he noted.

The gover­nor’s of­fice hopes to con­tinue and strengthen ef­forts with part­ners , both lo­cal and fed­eral, to crack down on traf­fick­ing and in­flux of these drugs. This ef­fort would in­clude more co­or­di­na­tion be­tween state and lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, and the cre­ation of a state of emer­gency in re­sponse to the es­ca­la­tion of the cur­rent cri­sis is an ap­pro­pri­ate re­sponse, said Ruther­ford. He com­pared the opi­oid epi­demic to the ri­ots in Bal­ti­more City and flood in El­li­cott City. No lives were lost as a re­sult of the ri­ots and two un­for­tu­nately were lost as a re­sult of the flood­ing, in com­par­i­son, to the 1,000 or more deaths the state is fac­ing in light of drug abuse and over­dose, Ruther­ford said.

It is like at­tempt­ing to put out wild­fires in each county in the state, he said. The Gover­nor’s Task Force has been tasked with fo­cus­ing on pre­ven­tion, treat­ment and en­force­ment. In ad­di­tion to the part­ner­ing with lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tions on en­force­ment, the state re­al­ized the Rack­e­teer­ing In­flu­enced and Cor­rupt Or­ga­ni­za­tions statute to make it pos­si­ble for the pros­e­cu­tion of ma­jor drug traf­fick­ers that op­er­ate across ju­ris­dic­tional lines.

As out­lined by Ruther­ford, the leg­is­la­tion will cre­ate a new felony, pun­ish­able by up to 30 years, for in­di­vid­u­als who dis­trib­ute an opi­oid or opi­oid ana­log, of which the use causes the death of an­other. The leg­is­la­tion will also con­tain an im­por­tant pro­vi­sion to al­low pros­e­cu­tors to tar­get king­pins.

The task force will also look at al­ter­na­tives to in­car­cer­a­tion for users with non-vi­o­lent of­fenses. We will seek to make a dis­tinc­tion be­tween those we are up­set with and those we are afraid of, said Ruther­ford.

Treat­ment plans will be funded un­der Ho­gan’s 2018 pro­posed bud­get with $4 mil­lion in new fund­ing to sup­port the state’s ex­ist­ing ef­forts to as­sist those strug­gling with heroin and opi­oid ad­dic­tion, said Ruther­ford. The bud­get also con­tains $1.3 bil­lion for men­tal health and sub­stance use dis­or­ders, in­clud­ing $159 mil­lion ded­i­cated to ex­ist­ing non-Med­i­caid sub­stance use dis­or­der treat­ment pro­grams.

Ruther­ford ad­dressed ques­tions from the group in­clud­ing his stance on le­gal­iz­ing mar­i­juana — Ruther­ford does not nec­es­sar­ily at­tribute heroin ad­dic­tion to mar­i­juana use, re­it­er­at­ing that 70 to 80 per­cent of new opi­oid ad­dic­tions be­gin with pre­scrip­tion use. There are ad­dicts who be­gan us­ing with the “tra­di­tional track,” i.e. mar­i­juana, al­co­hol use and so forth, said Ruther­ford, but the num­ber of those users who go on to use opi­oids is sig­nif­i­cantly smaller. He also noted that hered­ity and a pre­dis­po­si­tion to be­come ad­dicted as is of­ten a fac­tor with al­co­holism is a fac­tor to be con­sid­ered when look­ing at opi­oid ad­dic­tion.

But gen­er­ally, Ruther­ford said, he is not crazy about the idea [of le­gal­iz­ing mar­i­juana]. “I don’t think it’s a good di­rec­tion to go”, he said.

Ruther­ford also fielded ques­tions about sanc­tu­ary states and cities. We don’t want to hand­cuff law en­force­ment and keep them from be­ing able to do their jobs, said Ruther­ford. He added he thought it was un­likely to pass the Se­nate, but if the pro­posal to al­low Maryland to be­come a sanc­tu­ary state came be­fore the gover­nor, he will veto it, said Ruther­ford.

Founded in 1950, the Aspen In­sti­tute and its in­ter­na­tional part­ners seek to pro­mote the pur­suit of com­mon ground and deeper un­der­stand­ing in a non-par­ti­san and non-ide­o­log­i­cal set­ting through sem­i­nars, pol­icy pro­grams, con­fer­ences and lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment ini­tia­tives. The In­sti­tute is head­quar­tered in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., and has cam­puses in Aspen, Colorado in ad­di­tion to its lo­ca­tion along the Wye River. In­ter­na­tional part­ners in­clude part­ner Aspen In­sti­tutes in Ber­lin, Rome, Lyon, Tokyo and New Delhi, as well as lead­er­ship ini­tia­tives in Africa, In­dia and Cen­tral Amer­ica.

HANNAH COMBS

Lieu­tenant Gover­nor Boyd Ruther­ford ad­dresses fel­lows and guest at the Aspen In­sti­tute on Mar. 23.

Fel­lows at Aspen In­sti­tute and in­vited guests lis­ten to Lt. Gov. Boyd Ruther­ford dis­cuss the opi­oid epi­demic and Gover­nor Ho­gan’s re­sponse to the cri­sis in Maryland.

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