There has been a national outcry from families asking for more treatment options and programs for opioid and heroin addicts as heroin overdoses rise in Maryland ("Maryland could get $17 million for opioid treatment as part of White House funding request," June 14).
I have heard many stories from addicts who began with painkillers and then switched to heroin. This addiction is destroying and dividing families in all communities. My constituents in the eighth legislative district are not exempt from this suffering, and I have been strongly advocating for more assistance and attention to this issue.
Maryland's congressional leaders have announced actions to fight the nation's growing opioid abuse problem. Rep. John Sarbanes has spoken of Congress' next steps to address the heroin crisis. I am glad to see he is a member of the Task Force to Combat the Heroin Epidemic, which has been tasked with finding solutions to help families in need of treatment and resources.
With Representative Sarbanes' membership on the task force, the specific issues seen in Maryland will be part of the national conversation when Congress considers the most appropriate responses to the heroin spike. Moreover, there have been several member briefings on Capitol Hill and meetings with local and state officials and other stakeholders.
While there is a search for federal funding to support the proposals to expand treatment, during the most recent legislative session the Maryland General Assembly increased funding for substance abuse disorder and opioid addiction by $12.1 million, including $5.4 million for expanded services and treatment for individuals battling this disease.
This measure is one of the recommendations by the Governor's Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force, in which I completed my appointment as the Senate representative in December, 2015. I hope Congress finds the funding to help treat this addiction and restore families living with an addict.
Furthermore, this past session, to capture more individuals and households that are abusing their opioid prescriptions, I introduced a bill — SB 537 — to expand Maryland's prescription drug monitoring program. Maryland has seen an increase in users shopping around for different doctors and pharmacies to fill multiple scripts. This legislation instructs health providers on how and when to use the online database to learn if a patient may have an opioid addiction.
Prior to this year, I have diligently worked to strengthen the Overdose Response Program that was created in 2013. Naloxone is a life-saving tool that has been used to reverse the effects of opioids such as prescription pills and heroin. The program authorizes trained and certified individuals to administer naloxone to a person experiencing or believed to be experiencing an opioid overdose to help prevent a death when medical services are not immediately available. In 2015, the program was expanded to allow for more individuals to participate in the training and thus become certified to administer naloxone to a loved one overdosing on opiates.
The Joint Committee on Behavioral Health and Opioid Use Disorders was established through legislation in 2015. I am one of the co-chairs of the committee charged to monitor the effectiveness of the state's Overdose Prevention Plan, review strategic planning practices to reduce prescription drug abuse and monitor the efforts to enhance overdose response laws, regulations and training.
This year, the committee is scheduled to meet Aug. 24 and Nov. 2 to receive briefings and updates from the state's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Governor's Office. The meetings are open to the public.
I am working with the governor's office and my colleagues in the General Assembly to educate the public, increase funding and implement initiatives that would save more lives. The collaboration and concerted efforts between local, state and federal officials is essential in seeing a decrease in the number of overdoses from opioid abuse and heroin use occurring throughout the state.
The writer represents Baltimore County in the Maryland Senate.