Opioid epidemic under Hogan not 'out of control'

The Baltimore Sun’s ongoing coverage of Maryland's opioid epidemic has staked out a clear position: Not enough is being done (“Governor Hogan says we’ve tried everything to stem overdoses. Fortunately, that’s not quite true,” Oct. 12). But while Americans have never faced a greater threat from any kind of drug epidemic — 200 die each day of a drug overdose nationally, and it is the leading cause of death for individuals under the age of 50 — it’s simply not correct to conclude that the problem is out of control.

Real strides have been made in Maryland to address opioids, especially on the supply side of the drug trade in our state. Consider this single fact: As prescription opioid use has risen, synthetic opioids like fentanyl, which is up to 100 times more lethal than heroin, are becoming more common on the street. A physician may try to curb a patient’s use of a legitimate drug only to have that patient find a replacement in fentanyl. And fentanyl kills – instantly. In 2016, 66 percent of all opioid fatalities were attributed to fentanyl. The Hogan administration understands that data and information sharing are vital in combating this crisis. It has invested millions to link up state resources and highlight opportunities to share information.

One of Maryland’s most important successes is the designation known as the Washington/Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas which is housed within the Center for Drug Policy and Enforcement at the University of Baltimore, as the state’s central repository for drug related and overdose data. In addition, the Governor’s Office of Crime, Control and Prevention has funded heroin coordinators to support stronger links between health and law enforcement, and has invested necessary resources to better monitor prescription practices. In addition, Gov. Larry Hogan signed the Overdose Data Reporting Act, which allows emergency medical service providers and law enforcement to track overdoses in real time.

The Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program or ODMAP is a critical tool developed by at the University of Baltimore. This technology provides key data to pinpoint intervention efforts either to address patterns of drug trafficking organizations or to respond to an opioid overdose uptick in a specific area. The goal of ODMAP is a better deployment of resources to combat greater quantities of drugs or an increased level of lethality in our communities.

Maryland is not lagging behind other states in responding to this crisis. Instead, we are committing our forces to beat opioids using data, intelligence and an appropriate mix of public health and law enforcement professionals. Right now, 14 other states are working to do what we have already accomplished in terms of strengthening our systems. Make no mistake: Opioids are a scourge. But unlike past drug addiction crises, this one requires a different approach. We can’t arrest our way out of it – too many of these drugs start out as medically warranted, legally prescribed, and legally produced. The unacceptable result, however, is powerful addictions and untimely deaths.

That’s what we’re grappling with and that’s what, in Maryland, will require both tenacity and patience.

Jeff Beeson, Baltimore

The writer is deputy director of the Washington/Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas at the Center for Drug Policy and Enforcement at the University of Baltimore.

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