Maryland awards $3 million to fight heroin, but not in Baltimore

Maryland will distribute $3 million to fight the heroin epidemic, but Baltimore didn't apply.

Gov. Larry Hogan announced Monday that the state will distribute $3 million in grants to fight the heroin epidemic in Maryland, but none of it will go to Baltimore — which has accounted for more than a third of the state's heroin-related overdose deaths in recent years.

The city didn't apply for a share of the money, the governor's office said. A Baltimore police spokesman said the money wouldn't have helped the city.

The bulk of the money will go to counties where drug problems are less severe. Since 2010, the number of Marylanders who have died of heroin overdoses has more than doubled.

Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said notice of the availability of two types of grants — one to pay for a heroin coordinator in law enforcement agencies and the other for a Safe Streets initiative — was posted on the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention website. Emails were sent to let local jurisdictions know they could apply.

A spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said City Hall wasn't sure why the Baltimore Police Department didn't put in a bid.

"We would have encouraged the participation of anyone who was qualified in this administration to apply," spokesman Anthony McCarthy said.

Police spokesman T. J. Smith said the grants didn't meet the department's needs.

"They just weren't good fits for the Baltimore Police Department," he said.

Smith said Baltimore police shied away from the heroin coordinator grant because the funding lasted only one year. He said the city might have had to lay off whoever it hired when the money ran out.

The money at stake was a relatively small amount of the state's $42 billion budget. The budget includes $74 million this year for aid to local police.

Of the nearly $3 million, $2 million will go toward the state's Safe Streets Initiative, which is distinct from a Baltimore program of the same name.

Under the state program, five cities and four counties will receive amounts ranging from $161,000 to $345,000 to address problems with heroin and other drugs.

According to the governor's office, the state initiative tracks down and arrests the most serious offenders while steering those with addiction programs into drug treatment and other services.

The city's Safe Streets works to prevent violence through conflict mediation. The city learned last week it wouldn't receive $1 million in state funding, part of a broader decision by Hogan not to spend $80 million that the General Assembly left to the governor's discretion.

About 50 people gathered in Sandtown-Winchester last week to protest the lack of funding. Dr. Leana S. Wen, Baltimore's health commissioner, called the cut a "death sentence" for the city's Safe Streets program.

Meanwhile, more than $900,000 of the state grants awarded Monday will go toward hiring or providing overtime pay to heroin coordinators at law enforcement agencies in 17 of Maryland's 24 jurisdictions, as well as the Maryland State Police.

The heroin coordinators track, analyze and share data to help police identify drug traffickers across jurisdictional lines.

Heroin-related deaths in Maryland rose 29 percent in 2015, according to data released by the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene this summer.

There were 393 overdose deaths in the city last year, most related to heroin, fentanyl and prescription opioids.

Baltimore County was second with 220 deaths, followed by Anne Arundel County with 112.

Grants range from $20,000 to $84,000. The Baltimore County Police Department received $57,345.

Mayer said the money was distributed based on the severity of the drug overdose problem in each county, with those having the highest overdose rates getting enough money for full-time positions.

The governor's office said both programs carry out recommendations made by the Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force, chaired by Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford.

mdresser@baltsun.com

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