When Gov. Larry Hogan was first elected, he immediately declared a medical state of emergency regarding the opioid epidemic. He was the first governor in the nation to do so and deserves much credit. However, as time went on and overdoses continued to increase, Governor Hogan dropped the ball. What the governor did wrong was to take this epidemic and turn it into a political initiative by creating a politician’s best friend: a task force. After months of task force meetings around the state, and months to write a task force report, much critical time was wasted, and many Maryland residents needlessly died from drug overdose (”There is no vaccine for the opioid epidemic,” April 22, 2021).
As Maryland began to receive millions and millions of dollars to fight the epidemic, the administration made its next political mistake. In my humble opinion as a recovering heroin addict, purchasing billboards and public service announcements, staffing hot lines, buying fentanyl test strips and Narcan medication, and creating a fully staffed state office to manage the new funds was a misuse of these precious dollars.
The next politically motivated mistake was to give each county and the city of Baltimore thousands of dollars to create their own anti-opioid campaigns. We all know that, while many of these grant-funded local efforts mean well and are often successful, when the funds end, so do the programs.
So what should the state have done? The greatest need in Maryland is to increase the number of long-term residential drug and mental health treatment beds for all those who need help regardless of their ability to pay. It’s called treatment on demand, and the administration missed a golden opportunity to turn the state into a treatment-friendly state. Using these funds for the efforts mentioned in this letter only takes away from the only thing that will change the behavior of an addict — treatment!
With the number of drug overdoses still increasing each year in Maryland, I hope that our next governor will take the majority of these federal funds and create a statewide treatment on demand system that will help to reduce drug addiction and overdoses as well as reduce crime.
— Mike Gimbel, Lakewood Ranch, Florida
The writer is the former director of Baltimore County’s Office of Substance Abuse.
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