Opi­oid deaths still ris­ing

Mary­land sees 14.8% in­crease as of­fi­cials try to curb prob­lem

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By An­drea K. McDaniels

The num­ber of opi­oid-re­lated over­doses in Mary­land in­creased 14.8 per­cent in the first half of the year as pub­lic health of­fi­cials and oth­ers con­tinue to strug­gle to get a han­dle on the epi­demic.

Most of the deaths were re­lated to the pow­er­ful opi­oid fen­tanyl, which is of­ten added to heroin and even co­caine to boost their ef­fects with­out the user know­ing.

Opi­oid over­doses ac­counted for most of the state’s in­tox­i­ca­tion deaths, killing 1,185 peo­ple from Jan­uary to June, com­pared to 1,032 dur­ing the same pe­riod last year, ac­cord­ing to data re­leased Fri­day by the Mary­land De­part­ment of Health. The to­tal num­ber of peo­ple who died from in­tox­i­ca­tion deaths was 1,325, a 12 per­cent in­crease over the last year.

Fen­tanyl played a role in more than three-quar­ters of all overdose deaths in the state. The pow­er­ful opi­oid is 50 times more po­tent than heroin and a tiny amount can kill.

State of­fi­cials said stem­ming the epi­demic has proved chal­leng­ing in part be­cause it has evolved so quickly. Early on, pre­scrip­tion drugs posed the big­gest is­sue. Bet­ter mon­i­tor­ing of who is pre­scribed opi­oids and other ef­forts have led to de­cline in those deaths, and now il­licit street drugs are the prob­lem, said Clay Stamp, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the state’s Opi­oid Op­er­a­tional Com-

po­ten­tial vot­ers about a Ho­gan-Jeal­ous match.

The polls in­di­cate vot­ers’ con­tin­ued sup­port of Ho­gan is due to their sat­is­fac­tion with the di­rec­tion of the state. But even the poll­sters, them­selves, say they are sur­prised with Ho­gan’s con­tin­ued strength in blue Mary­land, where Democrats tra­di­tion­ally mop the floor with the GOP.

Poll­ster Brad Coker of Ma­son-Dixon Polling & Strat­egy has sur­veyed the race three times in the past year and found Ho­gan lead­ing by 16 points in Septem­ber 2017, 17 points in Fe­bru­ary and 15 points last month.

Coker says he can’t believe Ho­gan will fin­ish on Elec­tion Day with as big a lead as the polls show.

“I still see the un­de­cided vote go­ing more for Jeal­ous than Ho­gan,” Coker said. “In the end, it may be 55-45 statewide. If it’s 20 points on Elec­tion Day, it means Larry Ho­gan is ei­ther the great­est gov­er­nor in Mary­land his­tory or Ben Jeal­ous is the worst can­di­date in Mary­land his­tory.”

Sev­eral poll­sters also pre­dicted the race would nar­row in the state’s deep blue ju­ris­dic­tions when new vot­ers opt for Jeal­ous and un­de­cided Democrats who are cur­rently skep­ti­cal of him re­turn home to the party when they vote.

Such a shift could re­sult in a con­tin­u­a­tion of his­tor­i­cal vot­ing pat­terns: No Demo­crat run­ning for gov­er­nor has re­ceived less than 40 per­cent of the vote since at least 1869. In 1966, Ge­orge Ma­honey turned in the worst per­for­mance on record for a Demo­crat when he got just 40.61 per­cent in his race against Repub­li­can Spiro Agnew — and that was a three-way race in which an in­de­pen­dent si­phoned off 9 per­cent.

Jeal­ous has yet to break 40 per­cent of the vote in a pub­lic poll, while Ho­gan is per­form­ing well in the Demo­cratic strongholds of the city of Bal­ti­more and the Washington sub­ur­ban coun­ties of Mont­gomery and Prince Ge­orge’s. Those ju­ris- dic­tions are typ­i­cally blowout vic­to­ries for Democrats.

“It’s a sus­tained sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion with the in­cum­bent,” says Mileah Kromer, di­rec­tor of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Pol­i­tics Cen­ter. “Ho­gan has been gov­er­nor for 3 1/2 years. There’s been no real scan­dal. He has a record of work­ing to­gether with the Democrats. The econ­omy in the state is do­ing well. When peo­ple say ap­proval rat­ings don’t mat­ter, this is the ev­i­dence to the con­trary. Ap­proval rat­ings do mat­ter.”

A poll by The Washington Post and the Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land this week found Ho­gan lead­ing in tra­di­tion­ally lib­eral Mont­gomery County by 6 per­cent­age points. A Goucher Col­lege poll last month had Ho­gan ahead by 5 points in Mont­gomery and Prince Ge­orge’s. And a Gon­za­les Re­search & Mar­ket­ing Strate­gies poll this week found Ho­gan only 10 points be­hind Jeal­ous in deep blue Bal­ti­more city (50 per­cent for Jeal­ous; 40 per­cent for Ho­gan).

Kevin Har­ris, a se­nior ad­viser to Jeal­ous, said he didn’t believe the polls were cap­tur­ing the elec­torate that would ma­te­ri­al­ize in the elec­tion. The Jeal­ous cam­paign fore­sees a mas­sive blue wave with over 1 mil­lion Democrats cast­ing bal­lots that is un­ac­counted for in the polling.

“We don’t doubt he’s pos­si­bly ahead, but we do doubt he’s ahead by that much, and we doubt he’s do­ing that well in Bal­ti­more city,” Har­ris said. “These polls are prob­a­bly not prop­erly cap­tur­ing new vot­ers, young peo­ple or mi­nor­ity par­tic­i­pa­tion. They’re not cap­tur­ing the elec­torate that’s go­ing to show up on Elec­tion Day.”

Har­ris notes that a lot can change in a race in the fi­nal weeks. Ho­gan trailed by dou­ble dig­its in a poll in the fi­nal month of his up­set of Lt. Gov. An­thony Brown four years ago.

Scott Sloof­man, Ho­gan’s cam­paign spokesman, said the polls show Mary­lan­ders are pleased with his boss’ per­for­mance and want to re-elect him.

“Ev­ery sin­gle gen­eral elec­tion poll has shown the depth and breadth of Gov. Ho­gan’s bi­par­ti­san coali­tion of sup­port­ers,” Sloof­man said. “It goes to show that Gov. Ho­gan’s results-ori­ented fo­cus on Mary­land is what vot­ers are yearn­ing for in this era of po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sion.”

Kromer has polled Ho­gan’s lead at 13 points in April and 22 points in Septem­ber. She says she can’t en­vi­sion a Repub­li­can can­di­date per­form­ing so strongly on Elec­tion Day in Bal­ti­more City and Mont­gomery and Prince Ge­orge’s coun­ties.

“That’s where you’re go­ing to see the nar­row­ing,” Kromer said of those three vote-rich ju­ris­dic­tions. “I don’t believe for a sec­ond Larry Ho­gan is go­ing to win by 20 points.”

But she said Jeal­ous — who in the last fi­nance re­port had $9 mil­lion less in cam­paign cash than Ho­gan — is run­ning out of time to nar­row the gap.

“The win­dow is clos­ing, and the polls sug­gest Jeal­ous has a lot of ground to cover,” Kromer said. “Par­ti­sans do want to come home, but you’ve got to give peo­ple a rea­son.”

Poll­ster Pa­trick Gon­za­les has gauged Ho­gan’s lead at 13 points in De­cem­ber, 17 points in June, 16 points in Au­gust and 18 points this month.

“I don’t believe Larry Ho­gan wins Mont­gomery County,” he said, even though his own poll showed a tie there. “If, in fact, Ho­gan dead-evens Mont­gomery County, he’ll have a dou­ble-digit win” statewide.

The polls give in­di­ca­tions for why Ho­gan has such con­tin­ued strength in Mary­land. In the Post/Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land poll — which had Ho­gan lead­ing by 20 points — Democrats gave the GOP gov­er­nor a higher fa­vor­a­bil­ity rat­ing than Jeal­ous by 59 per­cent to 52 per­cent.

That poll also found Mary­lan­ders pre­fer Ho­gan to Jeal­ous by dou­ble-digit mar­gins on a va­ri­ety of is­sues that Jeal­ous has tried to turn to his ad­van­tage, in­clud­ing the econ­omy, ed­u­ca­tion and health care. The Goucher Poll found that more Mary­lan­ders than not say they’re do­ing bet­ter fi­nan­cially than in the past. And vot­ers said they trusted Ho­gan more than Jeal­ous to han­dle the state’s big­gest is­sues, in­clud­ing the econ­omy (66 per­cent to 23 per­cent), ed­u­ca­tion (51 per­cent to 36 per­cent) and health care (51 per­cent to 35 per­cent).

Gon­za­les’ lat­est poll found 64 per­cent of those sur­veyed said they thought Mary­land was mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion, while just 20 per­cent said the state was off track.

Those results “make it dif­fi­cult for some­body run­ning as a change agent,” Kromer said. “It’s dif­fi­cult to break through when peo­ple are sat­is­fied with how things are go­ing.”

Both Coker of Ma­son-Dixon and Gon­za­les said the con­sis­tency of Ho­gan’s poll results said more about the Repub­li­can gov­er­nor’s set im­age in vot­ers’ minds than his chal­lenger’s de­fi­cien­cies.

“When­ever you have an in­cum­bent on the bal­lot, it’s al­ways a ref­er­en­dum on the in­cum­bent,” Gon­za­les said. “In that way, the num­bers have al­ways said that vot­ers over­all in Mary­land are kind of sat­is­fied.”

Har­ris, of the Jeal­ous cam­paign, noted Ho­gan and his al­lies at the Repub­li­can Gover­nors As­so­ci­a­tion have spent nearly $8 mil­lion in tele­vi­sion ad­ver­tis­ing, but haven’t no­tice­ably widened their lead. Har­ris said he an­tic­i­pated be­ing out­spent about 5-to-1 by the time the race was over.

Har­ris noted other data points fa­vored Jeal­ous and in­di­cated a surge for the Demo­crat. For in­stance, ab­sen­tee-bal­lot re­quests have risen among Democrats.

“There have been 66,067 ab­sen­tee bal­lot re­quests sent in through Fri­day, Oct. 5, with 65 per­cent of those re­quests com­ing from reg­is­tered Demo­cratic vot­ers,” Har­ris said in an email. “This is a huge 103 per­cent in­crease over the 32,527 re­quested bal­lots at this point in 2014.”

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