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Bills offer two points of attack on Maryland's, Harfords opioid crisis [Commentary]

The Aegis

One of a series of weekly commentaries from Harford County state legislators regarding the 2018 Maryland General Assembly session.

So far this new year, Harford County has already recorded 20 overdoses and three deaths, adding to the 91 Americans who die daily from an opioid overdoses.

As the death toll rises, Marylanders need to act fast in order to slow and mediate the effects of opioid abuse, including drugs such as heroin, fentanyl and prescription painkillers.

Del. Teresa Reilly and I are working with the Harford County Sheriff’s Office to introduce legislation in Annapolis that will address the opioid epidemic ravaging our community.

The goal of the rapid roll-out of the drug naloxone (also known by the brand name Narcan) was to reduce the skyrocketing number of overdose deaths. The drug has proved to be extremely successful at bringing addicts back to life from an overdose. However, keeping someone alive should not be confused with saving a person’s life. Many addicts are now using Narcan, funded by taxpayers, as a safety net while they continue to abuse these drugs.

This unintended consequence enables some victims of the opioid epidemic to remain in the deathly grip of addiction. There are several accounts of addicts overdosing multiple times in one day and receiving Narcan each time. To address this, I am introducing legislation designed to facilitate a lifesaving intervention in these cases.

Unfortunately, many chronic addicts have no support structure to intervene on their behalf while mentally and emotionally incapacitated by addiction. If this bill becomes law, an addict who has overdosed and been revived with Narcan three or more times would be required to seek treatment from a qualified facility or reimburse the cost of the Narcan.

If the addict fails to meet these requirements they would be subject to a court hearing and a potential brief incarceration period. This 30-day commitment would include a drug detox program. I believe this intervention through incarceration method is needed due to the current definition for mental competency.

Currently in Maryland, an addiction to opioids is not a justifiable cause to involuntarily admit someone into a psychiatric hospital. Drug addiction alone is not grounds for commitment as long as the addict is not seen as an imminent threat to their lives or the lives of others. Perversely, a suicide attempt is grounds for involuntary commitment because the individual poses a threat to himself or herself.

The flawed assumption is that a heroin addict who has ended their life on three occasions is of sound mind and making good decisions for themselves. In order for people addicted to opioids to get treatment, they would have to voluntarily admit themselves into a program. This usually occurs when loved ones intervene and convince the addict to voluntarily seek help. This bill would impose a systemic intervention for those addicts who have no support group.

Del. Reilly also is working with the Harford County Sheriff’s Office on legislation that will help deter an individual from selling, distributing or providing heroin and/or fentanyl to children under the age of 18. In Harford County, numerous minors have overdosed and died because of adults that have aided them in obtaining opioids or have sold them opioids.

Currently, Maryland can only charge these perpetrators with distribution of a controlled dangerous substance. However, Del. Reilly would like to add an enforceable charge of distribution of a CDS that contributes to the death of a minor. This type of legislation would send a message to dealers and distributors that they will face harsh punishment if they prey on Maryland’s youth.

“We have heard the cries for help from our community to address how this epidemic is impacting our county. We want you to know that we take this issue seriously and are committed to creating change and instituting effective policies,” Reilly said.

Both of these bills focus on different aspects of the opioid epidemic in order to attack this multi-faceted issue. Through these laws and with your help, we will end enabling and we will punish the perpetrators of opioid abuse.

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