Last week, Governor Hogan declared a State of Emergency to increase state and local coordination and make additional grant funding available to curtail the heroin and opioid crisis which has been ravaging our entire state – particularly illustrated by overdoses that we have sadly seen first-hand in Carroll County. This action is the next in a series of steps to equip our communities, health providers, and families with information and resources to combat heroin and opioid addiction. This is not a sudden reaction, Governor Hogan and Lt. Governor Rutherford have been proactive since the beginning of their service confronting this crisis head on, convening a Task Force led by the Lt. Governor in 2015 and enacting a number of recommendations from that including reforming our criminal justice system to focus more on treatment for non-violent drug offenders while increasing criminal penalties on drug traffickers – things that I strongly supported.
Despite these and other steps, heroin-related deaths in Maryland have nearly doubled in the past year. The Governor’s announcement elevates the Opioid Operational Command Center (OOCC) to reside within the State Emergency Operations Center to help coordinate a more effective response to this crisis. The person he has put in charge of this command center coordinated the Hogan administration’s highly successful response to the Baltimore City Riots in 2015.
This declaration expands and accelerates the powers of emergency management personnel to fast-track coordination between the state agencies, local law enforcement, and community organizations. Opposing this widespread opioid crisis is going to require the efforts of all stakeholder groups. The involvement of health professionals, non-profit entities, and family and loved ones as well as positive peer pressure by caring young people are of the most importance if we are going to make real progress and turn this awful situation around.
Governor Hogan is also committing additional state funding to directly support drug prevention, addiction recovery, and law enforcement efforts. Of particular importance is expansion of the availability of treatment beds, something that has long been a problem. This builds on the legislative agenda he introduced at the State of the State Address. I am cosponsoring a series of bills with Governor Hogan and a bipartisan group of legislators to hold drug dealers criminally responsible for opioid distribution that results in death, require greater safeguards in the prescription of opioids and allow for stronger investigations into drug issues by the DEA and state medical licensing boards when applicable
The opioid crisis has hit us here locally very hard. It’s not simply a singular problem of illegal drug use, it’s a societal and cultural crisis that is developing. Whether it is hopelessness, depression, boredom, or some combination of genetics and choices that causes so many to fall into the trap of addiction, our community faces a tough test. Thankfully, many local leaders are stepping up to the plate and working to educate children and parents about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. Our State’s Attorney Brian DeLeonardo, in particular, has taken a hands-on approach to creative, drug awareness education in Carroll County Public Schools and has worked with our delegation to Annapolis to fight for modernization of drug laws in our criminal code. Sheriff Jim DeWees and DeLeonardo are working in tandem to be sure that students are aware of the dangers of prescription drugs but also what they can do if they see someone overdosing or are in trouble themselves. Ultimately, we all have to take a hard look at what is happening to those that are in our circle of influence, and fight to help our family members and neighbors get freedom from addiction.