By Anjali Shastry and Grace Toohey
Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced four initiatives to combat the state’s heroin epidemic Tuesday afternoon, including the formation of an inter-agency council and a task force, the distribution of overdose-prevention drugs and the allocation of fund for addict rehabilitation.
During his news conference in the Governor’s Reception Room of the State House, a visibly emotional Hogan emphasized treatment and prevention for heroin and opioid addicts, and recounted a cousin’s death from an overdose.
“Addiction is a disease and we will not be able to just arrest our way out of this crisis,” Hogan said.
In 2013, there were 464 heroin-related overdose deaths in Maryland, Hogan said, which was 77 more than the number of homicide deaths in the state that year. The problem is growing, he said, as the preliminary number of heroin deaths in 2014 is on track to be 20 percent more than in 2013.
Hogan then signed two executive orders creating an inter-agency council and a task force, both to be chaired by Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, that will bring together experts in substance abuse, law enforcement, public health officials, education experts and first responders.
“Having the right people on the advisory committees, to be able to teach people how taking a treatment approach versus a criminal justice approach is really important,” said Lynn Albizo, director of public affairs for The Maryland Addictions Directors Council, which is an association of health professionals who advocate for quality addictions services. The Council’s Executive Director, Tracey Myers-Preston, is part of the Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force.
His third initiative will be to distribute Evzio, a drug recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration that is used to prevent fatal heroin overdoses, throughout the state. Pharmaceutical company Kaleo donated the 5,000 units of Evzio to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Rutherford said, and it can be administered by anyone through a training program.
Daniel Watkins, Anne Arundel Medical Center’s nursing coordinator for drug and alcohol rehabilitation center Pathways, said that about 50 percent of their patients are heroin users. Though, he said, the Evzio donation will save lives, they will last “probably not too long.”
Hogan also announced his plan to allocate half a million dollars from a federal grant to expand reentry programs for people leaving prison, in hopes of reducing recidivism. The Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention will allot the funds to correctional facilities across the state.
Video by Gillian Morley
The extent of the heroin epidemic became evident to Hogan and Rutherford on the campaign trail while listening to Marylanders’ concerns, the governor said.
“Everywhere we went we were saddened how just under the surface of every community, heroin was ruining lives,” Hogan said.
From 2010 to 2013 the number of heroin-related overdose deaths increased by 95 percent, Albizo said, and she hopes the attention on the issue will continue to grow.
Acting Superintendent of Maryland State Police Colonel William Pallozzi said he is on board with the governor’s multi-faceted approach to solving this issue.
“Law enforcement has been in the business of arresting most of these people for years,” Pallozzi said. “We need to do more than that, it’s evolving.”
Continuing to change the stigma and treatment options for addicts is first on Daniel Brannon’s agenda. The president and CEO of Right Turn IMPACT, a provider of recovery services in Baltimore, Brannon said he had been an active addict for more than 33 years.
He began using drugs at age 10, and has been in and out of prison five times, he said. He has been sober since 2006, and said he has committed his life to helping addicts break their habits and maintain a lifestyle of sobriety.
“I’m living proof that addicts do get clean, we do recover,” Brannon said at the news conference. “We as a community need to do everything we can to help save lives.”