Package of bills to fight heroin crisis passes

The General Assembly passed a suite of bills designed to tackle Maryland's worsening heroin crisis, putting finishing touches Monday on measures to improve drug awareness education and help addicts get into treatment.

Fighting heroin addiction has broad bipartisan support and the legislature was deluged with policy ideas, weighing more than two-dozen bills. Work groups of lawmakers whittled down the ideas and moved forward quickly with a package of legislation in the final weeks of the session.

The number of heroin overdose deaths has been climbing in Maryland for years, but the issue took on added urgency this session after a spike in fatalities that officials attribute to the highly potent synthetic opioid fentanyl.

Del. Eric M. Bromwell, who led the work group in the House, said he thinks the legislation will serve as a model for other states around the country.

"I think we've done more than we even anticipated," the Baltimore County Democrat said. "A lot of people brought some very good ideas and they were very selfless in allowing them to be part of a bigger picture."

A bill dealing with treatment would order the creation of a 24/7 crisis treatment center for addicts and lays out a road map for the establishment of a network of centers around the state. It would also provide increases in reimbursement rates for drug treatment in line with inflation and make it easier for friends and relatives of addicts to get access to the overdose reversing drug naloxone.

As the bill came up for a final vote in the Senate Monday, Sen. Kathy Klausmeier, the measure's sponsor, thanked her colleagues for their support.

"Let's hope this works and we can save some lives," the Baltimore County Democrat said.

The other major bill would direct the state school board to craft a drug awareness program for students in the third grade and up, and put naloxone in school nurses' offices.

A pair of bills proposed by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan also moved forward, although in significantly revised forms.

One that passed on Monday would require doctors to follow the best available science when prescribing potentially addictive opioid pain pills and aim to dole out as few pills as possible. It had originally called for a strict seven-day limit on supplies, but the state's doctors opposed that idea. The other would impose stiff additional prison sentences on people convicted of a drug dealing offense involving fentanyl.

Hogan also provided an extra $10 million a year for five years to fight the problem and declared a state of emergency over it.

Copyright © 2017, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
50°