Opioid battle long despite emergency declaration
Overdoses rank among top causes of death
When Carin Miller’s son was about 19, he began to abuse heroin by snorting pills and eventually moved on to shooting up. This went on for six years before he got help.
Lucas Miller’s history of drug use started in high school with marijuana. When he moved out of his parents’ home, one of his housemates had access to 750 to 1,500 pills at any given time among five residences in Frederick, Maryland.
“My son was addicted to heroin. He’s in recovery by the grace of God since Thanksgiving 2014. I think that’s where we are at,” Ms. Miller said.
Opioid overdoses now rank with cancer, strokes and heart attacks among the top killers in Maryland.
State and federal lawmakers have passed legislation aimed at addressing the crisis, although they and public health professionals agree that the battle will be long.
On April 10, the Maryland General Assembly passed several bills to address this statewide crisis. The Start Talking Maryland Act, HB 1082, and the HOPE Act, HB 1329, were both passed.
The HOPE Act would increase access to naloxone, an overdose-reversal drug and would require hospitals to establish a new protocol when discharging patients treated for substance abuse disorders.
It also introduced Keep the Door Open, a provision that provides three years of funding to reimburse community health care providers. The act also requires the Behavioral Health Administration to establish a crisis treatment center before June 2018.
The Start Talking Maryland Act would require schools to have defined education programs on opioid addiction.
Other opioid-related bills passed by the General Assembly were HB 1432, which places a restriction on the number of opioid painkillers a doctor can prescribe to a patient per visit, and SB 539, a bill that sets new penalties for distributing fentanyl.
The opioid-related bills have been sent to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk for his signature. The Republican governor has until May 30 to sign or veto the 900 bills passed by the General Assembly; otherwise, they automatically become law.
On March 1, Mr. Hogan signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency in response to the heroin, opioid and fentanyl crisis “ravaging communities in Maryland and across the country.”
“We need to treat this crisis the exact same way we would treat any other state emergency,” Mr. Hogan said in a statement. “This is about taking an all-hands-on-deck approach so that together we can save the lives of thousands of Marylanders.”
The final numbers for last year are expected to show that nearly 2,000 people died from heroin and other opioid overdoses in the state over the past year, about double the number of deaths in 2015.
Additionally, drug overdose deaths rose by 19.2 percent from 2013 to 2014 in Maryland, according to a press release from U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin.
“There’s no question, no question there has been a spike in opioid overdoses,” Mr. Cardin said in an interview with Capital News Service. “Let me indicate the numbers in Maryland are shocking as we are seeing the doubling and tripling over the last couple of years, but the Maryland numbers are typical to what we see all over the country.”
Mr. Cardin and fellow Maryland Democrat Sen. Chris Van Hollen backed the 21st Century Cures Act and the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2015. Mr. Van Hollen was a co-sponsor for the 21st Century Cures Act.