From the office of State Sen. J.B. Jennings:
Death resulting from a heroin overdose is too often the final tragedy to befall a heroin addict. Compounding that tragedy is the fact that many of these deaths can be prevented.
Maryland is one of 23 states enacting laws and establishing programs to prevent heroin overdose deaths through expanding access to and encouraging the use of Naloxone. Commonly known as Narcan, Naloxone is an intra-nasal overdose reversal prescription medication, administered by spraying it into the nose of a person who has overdosed. According to the National Institute of Health, it quickly blocks the lethal and other side effects of overdosing on heroin or other opioids.
Heroin overdose deaths have spiraled to epidemic proportions. According to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH), heroin related deaths have increased by 88% over a two-year period from 2011 to 2013. In 2013, more people in Maryland died as a result of heroin overdoses than were victims of homicides. In 2012, the federal drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, called for broadening Narcan’s availability, declaring that for many addicts it could be “the difference between life and death.”
Passage of prescription drug monitoring laws to clamp down on overprescribing of painkilling drugs has had an unintended consequence and turned addicts to the much cheaper use of heroin. Street heroin is often mixed with fentanyl, a powerful painkiller that inhibits breathing and is 100% more potent than morphine. While the exact strength of a legally prescribed drug is known, the strength of street drugs is unknown to the dealer or the user. Use of this new heroin mixed with fentanyl has become a game of Russian roulette.
Responding to pleas from addicts’ families, the 2013 General Assembly approved legislation allowing non-medical individuals to be trained to administer the Narcan. In June 2014, the Overdose Prevention Council was established to advise the Governor on formulating a statewide effort to reduce the number of overdose deaths. In March 2014, DHMH began authorizing private and public entities to train and certify individuals to administer Narcan. A doctor or nurse practitioner can prescribe and dispense Narcan to a certificate holder.
Baltimore County offers training courses to everyone who wants to be able to administer Narcan. Beginning March 27, 2014, Baltimore County police began carrying Narcan kits and received specialized training in properly administering the drug. In Harford County, law enforcement and public health officials have labeled opiate abuse as the county’s top drug problem. The county offers training and will license individuals to administer Narcan. County ambulance crews and paramedics have been trained in the use of Narcan.
Several bills dealing with heroin and heroin overdose deaths have been introduced this session. Most recently, Maryland joined the Northeastern state’s Task Force to combat heroin traffic and deaths. Maryland’s Attorney General, Brian Frosh described the task force as “a 700-mile-long partnership” that stretches from Bangor, Maine to Baltimore, Maryland which will be able to track down people trafficking in heroin “whether they’re moving by car up and down I-95 or by boat or plane.”
Preventing further deaths from heroin use is a goal being pursued by federal, state and local government. Governor Hogan has called the spike in heroin overdose deaths a public health crisis as well as “the No. 1 problem we have in Maryland with respect to crime.”
Please do not hesitate to contact me on this issue or any other concerns you might have. Also, be sure to watch my weekly Annapolis Update video Post. As always, I encourage and welcome your input.