By Jo Martin and Len Lazarick
Gov. Larry Hogan and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford Tuesday unveiled their “2018 Anti-Opioid Initiatives” in Maryland’s campaign against a staggering opioid crisis that shows no signs of slowing.
The announcement from the Republican governor immediately produced another tiff with Democratic Attorney General Brian Frosh.
But there was broad bipartisan cooperation in evidence in Annapolis as Democratic House Speaker Michael Busch and Republican Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh jointly sponsored an opiod summit emphasizing local efforts and statewide legislation to battle the growing overdose deaths.
The latest data from the state health department showedl 1,172 total overdose deaths in the first half of 2017 compared to 979 in the comparable period of 2016. The largest increases were related to opioids with fentanyl, with carfentanyl, and with cocaine.
While the new initiatives fall along established areas of prevention, treatment, enforcement, and budget allocations, for the first time the governor authorized the attorney general to pursue a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors.
Within hours of the announcement, Atty. Gen. Brian Frosh released a statement contradicting the governor.
“Governor Hogan often issues a press release saying he has ‘directed’ us to do something after we have asked for his approval. As he has done here.”
Frosh outlined ongoing investigations and actions in his office and concluded, “We simply do not have sufficient resources, however, given the enormity and urgency of this effort.” He added that Hogan recently denied his request for four additional positions “to continue to wage war against this epidemic.”
Meanwhile, five Maryland counties are engaging lawsuits against multiple pharmaceutical companies and distributors to recoup the costs of managing the epidemic in their communities, including medical care and policing. In his announcement, Hogan stipulated that “100 percent of any proceeds recovered must be directed toward treatment, prevention and education programs.”
Other 2018 Initiatives include:
- A feasibility study on converting a portion of the former Baltimore City Men’s Detention Center into a therapeutic detention facility for incarcerated individuals with substance abuse and behavioral health problems;
- The Overdose Data Reporting Act to allow Emergency Medical Services (EMS) providers and law enforcement officers to input and share real time data;
- Expansion of the state’s Volume Dealer Law to include fentanyl and its analogs and impose additional penalties for their distribution.
- The announcement also mentioned that governor’s capital budget includes funding for Helping Up Mission in Baltimore and Westminster Rescue Mission in Carroll County to expand services to include women.
As part of a two-hour summit, Del. Eric Bromwell, D-Baltimore County, chair of the House’s Opiod Workgroup , and House Minority Leader Nic Kipke, a workgroup member, described what the House had passed last year, with important measures just going into effect. Bromwell’s committee melded 30 bills on opioids.
“We’re going to try to do everything we can to address these problems,” Bromwell said.
“Working together is the only way we’ll curb the opioid epidemic,” said Speaker Busch. “Last year, the General Assembly and Anne Arundel County took big steps to save lives and prevent addiction, but we’ve got a long way to go. That’s why it’s so important to continue to bring leaders and communities together to share best practices and plan our next steps.”