3 in 10 Mary­lan­ders are close to an opi­oid ad­dict, poll finds


Nearly 3 in 10 Mary­lan­ders say they have a close friend or fam­ily mem­ber who was or is ad­dicted to opi­oids such as heroin and pre­scrip­tion pain pills, a Wash­ing­ton Post-Univer­sity of Mary­land poll has found.

The find­ing il­lus­trates the ef­fect of a surge in opi­oid use that Gov. Larry Ho­gan (R) has de­scribed as a cri­sis and vowed to ad­dress.

Poll re­spon­dents who say they know an ad­dict in­clude An­thony Graziani, a truck driver from Crownsville whose daugh­ter bat­tled ad­dic­tion; Car­son Ken­nan, a West­min­ster mother of four whose hus­band took so many pain pills each day be­cause of a war in­jury that he for­got to pay the mort­gage; and An­thony DeAn­ge­lis of Pasadena, whose fam­ily friend lost her of­fice job while she abused med­i­ca­tion pre­scribed to her for back prob­lems.

“When we say it’s an epi­demic, it’s an epi­demic right next door to you,” said Beth Kane David­son, di­rec­tor of ad­dic­tion treat­ment at Sub­ur­ban Hospi­tal in Bethesda. “I’m on the front lines, so I see it. I know it’s hap­pen­ing.”

Con­nec­tions to ad­dic­tion are es­pe­cially strong in Bal­ti­more City and County, where 40 per­cent and 37 per­cent of re­spon­dents, re­spec­tively, say they know an ad­dict. Thir­ty­four per­cent in Anne Arun­del and Howard coun­ties say the same, as do 35 per­cent in ru­ral parts of the state.

Bal­ti­more res­i­dent Michael Bow­man, 33, said ad­dic­tion has claimed many of his child­hood friends. “Some got over it; some didn’t,” he said. “Some dis­ap­peared or moved to other ci­ties, and you never hear from them again.”

In the Wash­ing­ton sub­urbs of Mont­gomery and Prince Ge­orge’s coun­ties, Mary­land’s largest ju­ris­dic­tions, the prob­lem ap­pears to

be less preva­lent. Six­teen per­cent and 11 per­cent, re­spec­tively, say they know some­one who is or was hooked on opi­oids.

Fifty-two per­cent of Mary­lan­ders who know an ad­dict say the state spends too lit­tle on treat­ment, com­pared with 38 per­cent of those who do not know one. In terms of law en­force­ment, 49 per­cent of Mary­lan­ders with a per­sonal con­nec­tion say too lit­tle is be­ing done, com­pared with 40 per­cent of those with­out a per­sonal con­nec­tion.

Over­all, a plu­ral­ity of Mary­lan­ders fa­vor de­vot­ing more money to com­bat heroin, but sup­port is not over­whelm­ing. Just more than 4 in 10 say the state spends too lit­tle pro­vid­ing treat­ment, and a sim­i­lar num­ber say too lit­tle is spent on en­forc­ing laws against buy­ing and sell­ing heroin. About 3 in 10 say Mary­land spends the right amount or too much on heroin en­force­ment and treat­ment, while a quar­ter re­port no opin­ion on the is­sue.

“It has to be con­sid­ered a health is­sue and treated as such,” said Graziani, 62, the truck driver. “You can’t put it on the back of an ad­dict. The ad­dict doesn’t have any money to pay for treat­ment.”

Eight per­cent say fight­ing ad­dic­tion should be the state’s top pri­or­ity, com­pared with 9 per­cent for trans­porta­tion and 7 per­cent for the state bud­get. In con­trast, 37 per­cent of Mary­lan­ders say ed­u­ca­tion should be given the high­est pri­or­ity, while 20 per­cent say the same about the econ­omy and 13 per­cent about taxes.

Opi­oid abuse has sky­rock­eted in re­cent years, fu­eled by ad­dic- tion to pre­scrip­tion pain pills and a grow­ing use of heroin as a rel­a­tively cheap al­ter­na­tive that of­fers a sim­i­lar high. Fed­eral sur­vey data from 2010 and 2011 found that 4 per­cent of Mary­lan­ders re­ported us­ing pre­scrip­tion pain re­liev­ers for non-med­i­cal pur­poses within the pre­vi­ous year.

Na­tion­wide, the rate of heroin deaths has nearly quadru­pled since 2000, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion. In Mary­land, 578 peo­ple died of heroin over­doses last year, a 25 per­cent in­crease over 2013 and more than twice the num­ber who died from us­ing the drug in 2010.

Re­becca Mitch McKee, di­rec­tor of Anne Arun­del Coun­sel­ing, said treat­ment in­quiries at her or­ga­ni­za­tion have in­creased by about 7 per­cent in the past five years.

“There’s def­i­nitely a need for more pre­ven­ta­tive resources,” McKee said.

Kath­leen Con­ley, a Ca­tonsville res­i­dent and re­tired YMCA di­rec­tor of ur­ban ser­vices, agreed that the state needs to en­sure ac­cess for peo­ple bat­tling ad­dic­tion.

“If you’re ready, the slot has to be ready right then,” she said. “It can’t be a week later. I’ve seen that be such a frus­tra­tion, to not have the treat­ment avail­able.”

Ho­gan, who lost a cousin to heroin ad­dic­tion, launched a heroin task force about a month af­ter tak­ing of­fice. The ad­min­is­tra­tion has al­lo­cated new money to treat ad­dicts in county jails, and he has re­leased pro­pos­als to in­crease ca­pac­ity at treat­ment clin­ics, boost re­cov­ery hous­ing and detox­i­fi­ca­tion ser­vices, and dis­rupt gangs that dis­trib­ute heroin, among other mea­sures.

LaTe­sha Waller of Owings Mills, who lost her mother to a pain-med­i­ca­tion over­dose more than a decade ago, said she wishes the state had started ear­lier.

“It’s very dis­heart­en­ing that we are just now de­cid­ing that there should be a task force, but at least some­one made a de­ci­sion to do some­thing,” she said.

The Post-U-Md. poll finds a clear ma­jor­ity, 69 per­cent, sup­port shorter pri­son sen­tences for non­vi­o­lent drug of­fend­ers in the state. Stephen Malin, a re­tired col­lege pro­fes­sor from West­min­ster who knew sev­eral stu­dents who be­came ad­dicted to heroin, said crim­i­nal­iz­ing drug use doesn’t work.

“We’ve tried that now for about 50 years,” he said. “We should have learned our les­son with pro­hi­bi­tion.”

But oth­ers say the state should im­ple­ment harsher penal­ties. Del. Richard K. Im­pal­laria (R-Bal­ti­more County), whose cousin died of an over­dose, said the state should sen­tence deal­ers to death.

“It’s way worse than your av­er­age mur­derer,” he said. “They tor­ture peo­ple with ad­dic­tion, de­stroy their fam­i­lies and then poi­son their chil­dren if they’re un­born. It’s al­most like they walk out the door with heroin to sell, and they’ve al­ready pulled the trig­ger. It’s just a mat­ter of who the bul­let is go­ing to hit.”

The Post-U-Md. poll was con­ducted Oct. 8 to 11 among a ran­dom sam­ple of 1,006 adult res­i­dents of Mary­land, in­clud­ing land-line and cell­phone re­spon­dents. Full re­sults have a mar­gin of sam­pling er­ror of plus or mi­nus 3.5 per­cent­age points.

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