ANNAPOLIS – Three times Delegate Clarence Davis, D-Baltimore, has testified for his bill to require the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to establish an osteoporosis prevention and education program.
Each time the bill never made it out of the Environmental Matters Committee.
Yet Davis hasn’t given up. He introduced the bill again this session and reiterated the importance of developing programs and educational materials about osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis “is going to cost us $10 million to $20 million in 15 years if we don’t do something,” said Davis. “This is something that’s preventable.”
The disease causes bones to become fragile and break more easily. If left untreated, it can result in fractures in the hip, ribs, wrist or spine.
In 1996, 485,021 people in Maryland had the disease, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, which estimates there will be 709,156 sufferers by 2015.
“I think that there are a lot of articles about it (osteoporosis), so there’s a section of the population who read about it and know it can be detected, prevented or treated,” said Dr. Joan A. McGowan, bone biology and bone diseases program director at the National Institutes of Health. “But then there’s a whole host of people who don’t know about it. Sometimes their doctors don’t even mention it.”
Funding for a prevention and education program could help osteoporosis sufferers. Linda Harrigan, a 50-year-old Welcome, Md., resident who has battled the illness for 11 years, tells the benefits of preventive measures.
“It’s not life threatening,” said Harrigan, who first attributed the pain in her hip to aerobic exercise. “But it will definitely change your life.”
Harrigan, who is at higher risk for osteoporosis because she is tall, small-framed and post-menopausal, takes 1,800 milligrams of calcium a day, watches what she eats and exercises regularly. She is not able to participate in certain sports, such as horseback riding and skiing. One fall could leave her disabled.
Dr. John Ryan, chronic disease director at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said the department has not been very active in osteoporosis education and prevention because of a lack of funding and problems recruiting and retaining personnel. He testified for the first time this session in favor of the bill.
Ryan said he hopes to receive a portion of the state’s general funds within the next few months. He also is planning to hire more staff to get the program up and running.
“We’re looking for someone who would certainly be involved in reaching out to the community and getting the educational materials out,” said Ryan. “We certainly agree that it’s a concern and we need to do something about it. With the aging of the population it becomes an increasing problem.”
Committee Chairman Ronald Guns, D-Kent, said the bill has been turned down in previous years because of funding. Davis is asking for $500,000. Guns said the fact that the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is supporting the bill will lend it more weight.
While Davis said he hopes for better results this year, he will keep reintroducing the bill until he sees some action. There are no new amendments or changes to the bill.
“They don’t give a damn,” said Davis, referring to the committee. “The department has been recalcitrant every year and negative towards our efforts. We have people who are willing to work and bring money into the state to educate people.”
Osteoporosis is called the “silent disease” because it is virtually symptomless. However, there are diagnostic tests that can measure bone density. Health officials urge everybody to take precautions, including eating a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, engaging in weight-bearing exercise and refraining from smoking and heavy drinking. -30- CNS-2-9-01