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Md. needs to do more to improve addiction treatment behind bars

Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford talks about proposed spending in Gov. Larry Hogan's upcoming budget for treatment, prevention and education on opioids. (Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun video)

The Maryland General Assembly’s passage of the bills requiring access to medication treatment for Opioid Use Disorder in jails is an important step for saving lives (“Maryland legislature approves bill to expand use of medicines for addiction treatment in jails,” April 6).This victory is partial but crucial — this is great news for the 7,400 people in Maryland jails who will begin having access to life-saving, evidence-based medications over the four year roll-out plan.

However, it is disappointing that the final version excludes the 18,600 folks in state prisons. In 2017, nearly 700 Baltimoreans died from opioid overdose — twice that from gun deaths. Incarcerated people are at much higher risk of overdose deaths and some of the least likely to access treatment. The new bill’s requirement for the state-run Baltimore pretrial detention center (BPDC) to offer treatment calls for cautious optimism. Unfortunately, the passed version of the bill allows the BPDC to merely submit a report and plan in lieu of actually offering medication treatment by 2023 as originally drafted.

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Legislators and advocates must hold BPDC accountable in truly expanding access to evidence-based treatment. We must continue to end the unjust deprivation of care for incarcerated people.

Jenny Wen, Baltimore

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