More and more states around the U.S. are being hit hard by the opioid epidemic. In Maryland, the opioid crisis has started to reach levels never seen previously. Maryland’s General Assembly hopes to stop the opioid overdoses and have passed several bills addressing the situation. The bills, Heroin and Opioid Education and Community Action Act of 2017 (the Start Talking Maryland Act) and the Heroin and Opioid Prevention Effort (HOPE) and Treatment Act of 2017 hope to jump-start the effort against the drug. Both pieces of legislation have been sent to Maryland’s Governor, Larry Hogan, for his signature.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioid-related deaths in the United States continue to increase. Three out of five overdose deaths involve an opioid drug, and since 1999, opioid deaths have “quadrupled,” according to the CDC. Opioids are mainly prescription medications used to treat moderate to severe pain and are prescribed after surgery or injury. Over the years, opioid drugs have been prescribed to treat chronic pain, “despite serious risks and the lack of evidence about their long-term effectiveness.” Because a person can build a tolerance to opioids, more and more of the drugs must be taken to reach the same level of pain relief. The higher the doses, the more a physical dependence can occur. Beside tolerance and physical dependence, other side effects include increased sensitivity to pain, constipation, nausea, and confusion.
According to CBS Baltimore, opioid overdose deaths currently rank alongside heart attacks, strokes, and cancer as the top killers in Maryland. It is partly because of this statistic, that lawmakers passed the Start Talking Maryland and HOPE Acts. With the HOPE Act, access to naloxone would increase. Naloxone (sold under the name of Narcan) blocks the effects of opioids, especially in overdoses. Naloxone can pull a person who has overdosed into instant withdrawal. The HOPE Act would also require hospitals to “establish a new protocol when discharging patients treated for substance abuse disorders.”
The other act that passed Maryland’s General Assembly is the Start Talking Maryland Act where schools are required to have “education programs on opioid addiction.” In the text of the bill, it was stated that Maryland was the “fifth-worst state in the country for heroin and opioid-related deaths.” The act, the General Assembly hopes, would bring the community together to talk and become educated about opioid addiction.
The magazine, Governing reported that Governor Hogan recently pledged to spend an extra “$10 million a year to battle Maryland’s” opioid abuse. He declared Maryland to be in a “state of emergency” due to the opioid epidemic which some officials believe to have caused close to 2,000 deaths last year. Hogan said the state of emergency needed “an all-hands-on-deck approach” to save people’s lives.
By Cheryl Werber