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Legislation would make curbing overdose a federal priority

Federal legislation reintroduced by Donna Edwards would provide funds to fight overdose.

A 24-year-old athlete from Columbia, a teenage girl from Glen Burnie who wanted to become a medical examiner and a 21-year-old brother of two from Pasadena. What do these three individuals have in common? Each died from a drug overdose.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in 2013, nearly 44,000 Americans died from drug overdose, referring to the situation as an "epidemic" as it eclipsed the number of deaths from auto accidents for the fifth year in a row.

With this surge in cases, it is no surprise that drug overdoses are having a devastating impact in communities across our state too. Drug overdose is skyrocketing in America, and the statistics here in Maryland are sobering.

The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reports that there were 1,039 overdose deaths in 2014, including 578 heroin-related deaths alone. This marks a 60 percent increase from 2010, and similar trends are seen across the country. The CDC also points out the growing threat of overdose to women, with women dying from overdose increasing by 400 percent since 1999, compared to a 265 percent increase among men.

In real terms, a drug overdose is occurring every 19 minutes, with approximately 100 Americans, friends and loved ones being taken too soon each and every day. That is why I, along with Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, reintroduced federal legislation to curb our nation's alarming overdose epidemic by cementing as a federal priority educating and training the public, first responders and caregivers of those at risk of overdose.

The S.O.S. Act, H.R. 2850, which I first introduced six years ago, is a bipartisan approach that would dedicate federal funding to communities across our nation and in Maryland so they can be outfitted with naloxone, a drug that is proven to reverse the effects of heroin and opioid overdoses until proper medical care can be provided. I am pleased that naloxone is being used successfully by first-responders across Maryland, including by the Anne Arundel County Sheriff's Department.

In order to move forward, we must also enhance national data reporting on nonfatal and fatal drug overdoses to improve the existing overdose surveillance systems. Our current three-year lag is preventing experts from having the data needed to address this problem effectively. It's simple: With more timely data, we can identify geographical areas of increased overdose incidents, bring programs to those areas and measure their effectiveness in saving lives.

The S.O.S. Act incorporates these concrete steps.

As is so often the case, we must work in unison at the federal, state and local levels if we are to address these challenges successfully. New federal funding through the Office of National Drug Control Policy is an important step forward to help several states in our region coordinate public health and public safety efforts to combat heroin use. I am also encouraged by the dedication shown by Gov. Larry Hogan's administration on this issue, with Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford holding his last Maryland Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force regional summit earlier this summer. After months of receiving input from Marylanders who have been affected by this epidemic first hand, my hope is that the governor's office will pursue a federal investment to expand naloxone access throughout the state.

As we close out summer vacations with family and friends and begin the new school year, Aug. 31 marks International Overdose Awareness Day. I hope you will join me in remembering those who were taken too soon by drug overdose and help raise awareness of the ongoing threat our communities face from heroin and opioid overdose. Federal and state lawmakers must continue to work together to develop a comprehensive national plan to curb this epidemic. Local communities in Maryland and around the country are counting on federal and state leadership to provide the programs and resources they need to help save lives.

Rep. Donna F. Edwards, a Democrat, represents Maryland's Fourth Congressional District; she is running for U.S. Senate. Her email is Donna.Edwards@mail.house.gov.

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