Miller awarded for role in help­ing to fight opi­oids

St. Mary’s has seen 23 over­dose deaths so far this year

The Enterprise - - News - By DANDAN ZOU dzou@somd­ Miller Twit­ter: @Dan­danEn­tNews

Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Charles, Prince Ge­orge’s) re­ceived an award Wed­nes­day from ad­vo­cacy groups for his role in pass­ing leg­is­la­tion to fight the grow­ing opi­oid cri­sis.

Miller was the lead spon­sor of Heroin and Opi­oid Ed­u­ca­tion and Com­mu­nity Ac­tion Act, or Start Talk­ing Mary­land Act. The bill, which be­came law in July, re­quires pub­lic schools to teach stu­dents about drug ad­dic­tion and the dan­ger of opi­oids.

It was one of the bills passed in the 2017 leg­isla­tive ses­sion to ad­dress the state’s wors­en­ing opi­oid epi­demic.

“It’s a tough thing to talk about,” Miller said, not­ing peo­ple have to un­der­stand that par­ents need to know what to look for among their chil­dren.

Miller said in

April that the pas­sage of the com­pre­hen­sive leg­is­la­tion pack­age to tackle the opi­oid epi­demic statewide is one of the ef­forts he was most proud of.

His leg­is­la­tion, cou­pled with the Heroin and Opi­oid Preven­tion Ef­fort and Treat­ment Act of 2017 in­tro­duced by Sen. Kather­ine Klaus­meier (D-Bal­ti­more County), ad­dresses treat­ment, ed­u­ca­tion and the aware­ness as­pects of the es­ca­lat­ing drug epi­demic.

“The num­ber of slots avail­able for drug court needs to be in­creased; the num­ber of treat­ment beds need to be ad­dressed,” Miller said. “We can do bet­ter. We are on top of things. But we can do a whole lot bet­ter.”

Dr. Nancy Rose-Co­hen said the award that went to Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch (D-Anne Arun­del) is their way of say­ing thank you to the lead­er­ship in Gen­eral As­sem­bly for un­der­stand­ing the opi­oid cri­sis.

Rose-Co­hen is the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Coun­cil on Al­co­holism and Drug De­pen­dence of Mary­land, one of the ad­vo­cacy groups that part­nered to­gether to present the award.

If the lead­er­ship didn’t push the leg­is­la­tion through, “we could ad­vo­cate for years, and peo­ple could keep dy­ing, but un­til you have the leg­is­la­tion that [in­creases] ac­cess to treat­ment, I think we would be in a world of trou­ble,” she said.

The num­ber of Mary­lan­ders who died from drug and al­co­hol-re­lated over­dose in 2016 reached an all-time high of 2,089, a 66 per­cent in­crease from 2015, ac­cord­ing to the state’s health depart­ment.

Sim­i­lar to the up­ward trend statewide, South­ern Mary­land saw 88 deaths in 2016, a nearly 50 per­cent in­crease com­pared to 2015.

“A young neigh­bor over­dosed on my beach two weeks ago,” and the funeral ser­vice was held Satur­day, said Miller, who lives in Ch­e­sa­peake Beach. “I see what’s hap­pened.”

Not­ing Mary­land is the fifth worst state in the coun­try for opi­oid–re­lated deaths, Miller said: “This has got to stop.”

Sub­stances like heroin and fen­tanyl now kill more peo­ple ev­ery year than car ac­ci­dents. The to­tal num­ber of those who died from over­doses in the tri-county re­gion nearly dou­bled the num­ber of those who were killed in car ac­ci­dents in 2016.

Ear­lier this year, St. Mary’s be­came the first ju­ris­dic­tion in the state to charge drug sup­pli­ers with sec­ond-de­gree mur­der when vic­tims die.

“I have no prob­lem with it at all, quite frankly,” Miller said. “Fen­tanyl is al­most in­stan­ta­neous death. It’s too dan­ger­ous for am­a­teurs to be in­volved in.”

For those who are in­volved in fen­tanyl dis­tri­bu­tion, they have to un­der­stand that there’s con­se­quences to their ac­tions, he said.

2017 is on track to be­come the worst year for St. Mary’s County in terms of opi­oid-re­lated deaths.

In the first six months alone, 20 peo­ple died from drug over­doses, sur­pass­ing the to­tal over­dose fa­tal­i­ties for all of 2016, which was 15.

St. Mary’s sher­iff’s of­fice has han­dled 23 opi­oid-re­lated over­dose deaths as of Wed­nes­day, ac­cord­ing to Julie Yin­gling, in­terim pub­lic in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer from the sher­iff’s of­fice.

As of Wed­nes­day, Calvert had 21 fa­tal over­doses out of 133 to­tal over­doses, ac­cord­ing to Joe Wind­sor, drug in­tel­li­gence pro­gram co­or­di­na­tor at Calvert’s sher­iff’s of­fice.

In 2016, Calvert saw 28 over­dose fa­tal­i­ties.

In 2016, Charles County saw 45 over­dose deaths. As of Wed­nes­day, out of 219 over­dose cases, 27 of them were fa­tal, ac­cord­ing to Diane Richard­son with the Charles sher­iff’s of­fice.

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