Maryland Governor Larry Hogan Announces Plan to Combat Opioid Addiction

By McCarton Ackerman 01/30/17

Maryland will soon join other states by introducing new, tougher opioid prescription limitations.

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Maryland Governor Larry Hogan
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Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has launched aggressive measures to combat the state’s ongoing opioid epidemic.

The number of heroin-related overdose deaths in the state rose 72% (to 918) in the first nine months of 2016, compared to the first nine months of 2015, according to the Washington Post. Also in 2016, prescription opioid-related overdose deaths jumped by 17%. Fentanyl-related overdose deaths nearly tripled in the first nine months of 2016 (to 738).

In response, Hogan announced last Tuesday (Jan. 24) that he will introduce legislation that limits opioid prescriptions to a seven-day supply. Exceptions to the rule would apply to certain individuals, for example, cancer patients or those in hospice care. According to the Post, it's become a growing consensus that many people are turning to heroin as a less expensive way to feed their prescription painkiller addiction.

At least seven states have also adopted tough limits on opioid prescriptions in the past two years, including Connecticut, Hawaii and Illinois, while Kentucky adopted similar legislation in 2012.

Governor Hogan also called for a new felony category to be created that would allow prison sentences of up to 30 years for those involved with the sale of opioids or synthetic opioids that lead to an overdose death. An exemption would be made for those who sold drugs to fuel their own addictions, keeping in line with Maryland’s efforts to move away from punitive measures for addicts and instead focus on treatment.

The governor noted that his 2018 budget has allotted $4 million in new funding to treat addiction, and that his administration increased the number of treatment beds throughout the state by 50% compared to the previous administration.

But while advocacy groups have supported these efforts, some also believe the state needs to further expand access to treatment and provide better oversight of existing treatment centers to make sure they’re effective. “We can give $4 million for treatment, but what if the provider has no oversight?” asked Lisa Lowe, director of the Heroin Action Coalition of Maryland and the mother of an opioid user.

Last March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines for prescribing opioids. Among its recommendations are that doctors consider prescribing non-opioid painkillers whenever possible.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.

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