Maryland’s Opioid Epidemic: Eyes on the Maryland General Assembly

Maryland General Assembly Courtesy of WYPR

The use of opioids and opioid-use fatalities have increased drastically over the five years in Maryland and across the country. In Maryland, heroin and Fentanyl are two of the most abused opioids. Heroin is an opioid drug made from morphine and Fentanyl is a synthetic and cheap opioid, which is 40 to 50 times stronger than street-level heroin. Preliminary counts by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) report that there were 918 fatal heroin overdoses in Maryland from January- September of 2016, doubling from the previous year. During that same period there were 738 fatal Fentanyl overdoses, quadrupling from the previous year.

In 2015, Governor Hogan launched the Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force to develop policy, prevention, treatment, and enforcement recommendations to combat the growing epidemic. These recommendations established the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, created county-level heroin coordinators that work with law enforcement, and more.

These programs were essential in legitimizing the problem and strategically combating the growing epidemic. However, the use of heroin and other synthetic opioids is still on the rise in Maryland, indicating the need for new strategic policies.

In January 2017, Governor Hogan announced the 2017 Heroin and Opioid Prevention, Treatment, and Enforcement Initiative, a “multi-pronged” approach to addressing Maryland’s ongoing epidemic. This new initiative provides funding for the coordination of efforts between state and local governments and proposes three pieces of legislation: the Distribution of Opioids Resulting in Death Act, the Prescriber Limits Act, and the Overdose Prevention Act.  

The Distribution of Opioids Resulting in Death Act creates a new felony charge for those who distribute opioids that cause the death of another. If violated, this felony is punishable with up to 30 years in prison.

The Prescriber Limits Act would limit the duration of prescription opioids prescribed to a 7-day supply, with exceptions for those undergoing cancer treatment, a terminal illness, or treatment for a substance-related disorder. This legislation is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many heroin users start their addictions by stealing prescription drugs from family members and then they progress to heroin. This legislation attempts to stop the initial use of prescription drugs.   

The Overdose Prevention Act will create local fatality review teams to review data on drug use and fatal drug use in order to provide recommendations on prevention strategies, naloxone prescriptions (a drug that restores the breathing of an individual who has overdosed), etc.

Delegates and Senators of the Maryland General Assembly have also proposed legislation concerning naloxone access, the sale of prescription drugs in lockable containers, the creation of safe-consumption facilities for opioid users, the establishment of substance use treatment facilities in hospitals, improved opioid education programs, and more.

The legislative session began in January and most of these bills will have their first committee hearings in the next few weeks. From there bills will receive reports from committees, votes in their respective houses, amendments, pass to the next house, and continue until the final version is voted on by each chamber, the bill is withdrawn, or the bill simply dies. See a bill you support or have concerns about? Reach out to your local Delegate or Senator!