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Cuts to treatment will worsen heroin crisis [Letter]

The recent article, "Arundel police officers to carry drug to counteract heroin overdose (March 24) yet again brings attention to the heroin epidemic taking root in communities throughout our state.

As the article accurately outlines, heroin-related deaths are increasing in Maryland with Anne Arundel County experiencing overdoses at a rate of more than one per day. Adding to this already alarming news, health officials expect the number of deaths and overdoses throughout the state to climb even higher.

Gov. Martin O'Malley has demonstrated his commitment to better understanding the crisis through town hall meetings and the introduction of initiatives to address overdoses. Despite public support for addiction treatment, drastic and consistent funding reductions over the past several years are having a devastating effect on our treatment system. As funding for treatment services has been cut, the substance abuse crisis and resulting deaths have grown.

A closer review of the 2015 budget reveals proposed budget cuts of $12.4 million from the ADAA budget for Medicaid services and $2.8 million from treatment grant funding. These reductions severely limit access to treatment at a time when demand for services has never been higher.

The Department of Legislative Services reported that not reinvesting the $12.4 million in the FY 2015 budget was "a missed opportunity to fund additional treatment services." With the epidemic of drug overdoses growing, our treatment system is expected to do the impossible — provide more treatment with far less funding.

While efforts such as those being implemented by Anne Arundel County are admirable and will surely saves lives, naloxone is only one tool available to us. Where will our most at-risk turn in the absence of high-quality addiction services?

Without the necessary funding, families will suffer, lives will be lost and communities will be over-burdened by increased crime and heightened costs for jails, shelters and emergency-room care. It's up to the governor and our legislators to reverse the devastating cuts and demonstrate Maryland's commitment to the individuals and families whose treatment programs enable them to live healthy and productive lives.

Tracey Myers-Preston, Towson

The writer is executive director of the Maryland Addictions Directors Council.

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