Lt. Gov. tells Aspen fellows about opioids
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.
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.