ANNAPOLIS, Maryland — Gov. Larry Hogan and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford announced Tuesday they are rolling out new legislation that would counter Maryland’s growing opioid addiction crisis.
The Prescriber Limits Act would prevent doctors from prescribing more than seven days worth of opioid painkillers during a patient’s first visit or consultation. The law exempts patients going through cancer treatment and those diagnosed with a terminal illness.
The Distribution of Opioids Resulting in Death Act would introduce a new felony charge carrying up to 30 years in prison for people convicted of illegally selling opioids or opioid analogues that result in the death of a user. Rutherford said the law would carry protections for people who were selling to support their addiction.
And the Overdose Prevention Act authorizes the collection of and review of non-fatal overdose data and would make it easier for people to fill prescriptions for naloxone, a drug that can counteract the effects of an opioid overdose.
Hogan and Rutherford, whom the governor has directed to focus on opioid addiction, announced the legislation in a press conference at Anne Arundel Medical Center on Tuesday.
Rutherford also announced that the governor would sign an executive order that will create an Opioid Operations Command Center — a “virtual” task force charged with organizing training and funding for local anti-addiction teams as well as collecting data on opioid use and abuse.
Hogan said that he did not fully appreciate the scope of the opioid epidemic until he began crisscrossing Maryland during the early phases of his gubernatorial campaign. He said he asked people in different parts of the state what their community’s biggest problem was and that, regardless of whether they were from a rural, urban, wealthy, or poor community, “the answer was always the same: heroin.”
Both Hogan and Rutherford appeared optimistic but acknowledged that the problem of opioid addiction is worsening in Maryland. Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh said that, at the start of his tenure a couple years ago, there was one overdose per day and one death per week from opioid abuse in his county. He said those figures have risen to two overdoses per day and two and a half deaths per week.
At the press conference, State’s Attorney Wes Adams, R-Anne Arundel, spoke about the recent death of his brother-in-law, who he said died of an opioid overdose.
Adams said his brother-in-law became addicted to opioids after being prescribed them following a surgery about eight years ago. He said he moved in and out of rehab centers and periodically became clean, only to relapse later.
Adams lamented the obstacles from the medical and insurance industries that he and his family faced as they tried to keep his brother-in-law in treatment.
He also expressed consternation over recently being prescribed a substantial supply of Oxycontin, an opioid pain-killer, following a medical procedure, despite telling his doctor that he was only experiencing moderate pain.
He said angrily that the only major side-effect his pharmacist warned him of was constipation, despite the well-documented risk of addiction that use of the drug carries.