Reasons for hope, optimism in face of opioid abuse epidemic

How we, as a community, can support programs and health care strategies that prevent and treat substance use d

Editor:

Thank you for Allan Vought's and Erika Butler's in-depth reporting on the heroin overdose deaths in the greater Aberdeen and Havre de Grace areas. Their article is especially relevant in that it reminds us that heroin, opioids and fentanyl are part of a growing epidemic of addiction that devastates families, people and children from all varieties of neighborhoods, income levels, religious and ethnic backgrounds, occupations and levels of education.

Your readers might understandably throw up their hands and think this widespread "substance use disorder" – the clinical and non-stigmatizing way of describing addiction – can't be successfully reduced and overcome.

There are, however, reasons for hope and optimism that we, as a community, can support programs and health care strategies that prevent and treat substance use disorder. We can rely on evidence-based practices that have proven effective. Moreover, three recent state and federal public policies will strengthen our ability to reduce and reverse the effects of this disease.

First, Gov. Hogan's Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force released its final report containing 33 specific recommendations in December 2015. Coupled with his Inter-Agency Heroin and Opioid Coordinating Council of state agencies, Gov. Hogan and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford released its report in December 2016. These reports offer cost-effective recommendations including realistic reimbursement and eligibility rates of Medicaid inpatient and outpatient treatment, expanding the peer recovery specialists program, services and help for drug-exposed newborns and their mothers and prevention programs that will inform youth, pain recovery patients and other vulnerable individuals and groups.

Second, the recently-enacted federal 21st Century Cures Act and its subsequent appropriations will award Maryland over $20 million per year for two years. These much-needed funds will support treatment, prevention, law enforcement, training for health care providers, public awareness projects and other tried-and-tested program.

Finally, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy released "Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General's Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health" in November. Based on the medical research and findings that substance use disorder is a bona fide disease of the brain and not a moral failing, Dr. Murthy's team of nearly 1,000 clinicians, people in recovery, community leaders, law enforcement officials, educators, treatment providers and others have packaged dozens of real-world recommendations and strategies that communities and states can consider. The report is available at Addiction.SurgeonGeneral.gov

There are a few things that regular citizens like my family and me can do right here in Harford County to become better informed and help keep kids away from drugs. It's very worthwhile to talk with or attend a presentation of a parent who has lost a child to heroin or drugs. Their stories are compelling and reveal that anyone's children might be lured into trying drugs that might kill them. Our local elected officials, most notably County Executive Barry Glassman, are using every possible resource and creating partnerships with religious groups, the public schools, health agencies, nonprofit groups, civic organizations and others. The Harford County Office of Drug Control Policy has been recognized by the National Governor's Association for its exemplary leadership. All of these deserve our support.

Don Mathis

Havre de Grace

Mathis serves on the boards of Addiction Connections Resource and Doctors for America. Ed.

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