Maryland's Governor Announces Heroin and Opioid Initiative

The program includes the creation of a statewide Opioid Operational Command Center and three new pieces of legislation: the Distribution of Opioids Resulting in Death Act, the Prescriber Limits Act, and the Overdose Prevention Act.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced his administration's 2017 Heroin and Opioid Prevention, Treatment, and Enforcement Initiative on Jan. 24, joining Lt. Governor Boyd Rutherford and several other state officials for the announcement in Annapolis, the state capital. The others included Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary Dennis Schrader and Glenn Fueston, executive director of the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention.

The program includes the creation of a statewide Opioid Operational Command Center to help eliminate governmental silos and aid in coordinating federal, state, and local resources. With $4 million in new funding, it also includes three new pieces of legislation: the Distribution of Opioids Resulting in Death Act, the Prescriber Limits Act, and the Overdose Prevention Act.

"Marylanders from one end of the state to the other know the devastation that heroin and opioid abuse can cause," Hogan said. "It's under the surface of every community, and we decided we were going to shine a spotlight on this to try to find as many possible solutions as we could. Today, we are announcing our 2017 Heroin Treatment, Prevention, and Enforcement Initiative because as this crisis evolves, so must our response to it."

"The reality is that the heroin problem in Maryland has changed with the emergence of cheap and potent synthetic opioids, which pose a new threat to our communities," Rutherford added. "The governor and I look forward to working with members of the legislature to enact these common sense proposals as we continue to use all the tools at our disposal to address this crisis and to save lives."

Rutherford chairs the Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force created by Hogan's 2015 executive order. The task force developed 33 recommendations to combat the opioid and heroin crisis, and some of those recommendations already have been implemented:

  • Through SAMHSA, the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issued a final rule to increase the number of patients that qualified physicians who prescribe buprenorphine for opioid use disorders can treat from 100 to 275.
  • Hogan's administration funded 18 county-level heroin coordinators to promote an integrated law enforcement approach and to analyze and share actionable information, making it easier for law enforcement to identify drug traffickers.
  • The state passed a Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations statute to make it possible for the prosecution of major drug traffickers that operate across jurisdictional lines and expanded the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program by requiring mandatory registration for all providers that have a license to prescribe or dispense controlled dangerous substances and requiring certain providers to check the program database before prescribing an opioid or benzodiazepine.

Hogan on Jan. 24 signed a new executive order amending his 2015 order to establish the Inter-Agency Heroin and Opioid Coordinating Council, authorizing the council to establish the Opioid Operational Command Center. His proposed FY2018 budget includes $4 million in new funding to increase treatment for those struggling with heroin and opioid addiction and also $1.3 billion for mental health and substance use disorders.

The Distribution of Opioids Resulting in Death Act would create a new felony punishable by up to 30 years for individuals who distribute an opioid or opioid analog that, through its use, causes the death of another. According to the governor's office, the legislation contains a provision to allow prosecutors to target kingpins and protections for those who sell drugs to support their own addiction.

Another piece of proposed legislation would limit the duration of prescription opioids prescribed upon the initial consultation or treatment to a seven-day supply, except for when the opioid is prescribed for the treatment of pain associated with a cancer diagnosis or a terminal illness or to treat a substance-related disorder.

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