With overdose deaths piling up in Maryland for years now, the state’s problem with opioid and heroin addiction has been an emergency. Now, it’s official.
Gov. Larry Hogan today signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency to deal with the crisis. The order breaks down bureaucratic walls by giving state and local emergency officials additional powers to fast-track coordination with one another and with private firms and nonprofits “to ensure whole-community involvement.” The tangibles of what that will look like remain unclear.
To fund this new emergency response, Hogan announced an additional $50 million to be spread over five years. The money will support prevention and recovery programs and law enforcement efforts, the governor said. His office didn’t specify where exactly the money will come from.
The governor appointed Clay Stamp, his senior adviser for emergency management, to oversee all of this. Stamp led the state’s imperfect response to the April 2015 riots following the death of Freddie Gray in custody of Baltimore police officers.
Maryland has an enormous, deadly problem with opioids, heroin and fentanyl. State data indicate that in the first three quarters of last year alone, 1,468 residents died from fatal overdoses, the bulk of which were caused by one or a combination of those three drugs. That total surpassed the 1,259 overdose deaths from all of 2015.
If you’re wondering whether it’s ever been this bad, it hasn’t. In fact, Maryland saw 465 overdose deaths in 2010, a fraction of the most recent total amassed over only nine months.
Many Marylanders have been affected by the opioid and heroin epidemic. A January Gonzales Poll found two of every five voters know someone who was harmed by the crisis within the last five years.
Hogan, whose cousin died of a heroin overdose, has launched numerous efforts targeting the drug epidemic since he took office. He formed a task force focused on the issue via executive order in 2015. In October 2016, he agreed to work with Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser to better coordinate regional resources to fight the crisis. And last month, he asked Maryland’s eight U.S. representatives and two senators to focus more on the issue at the federal level.
“We need to treat this crisis the exact same way that we would treat any other state emergency,” he said at today’s announcement, which took place at the Maryland Emergency Management Agency’s Operations Center in Reisterstown.
Hogan also said the opioid crisis came up as a topic during his meetings with President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and his fellow governors while they were all in Washington last weekend.
Last month, the Abell Foundation published a report by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health that suggests Baltimore try out a couple so-called safe consumption spaces. These centers, which the authors said have proven successful in Canada and Europe, allow people addicted to drugs to use them in an environment where staff are ready to save them using naloxone, an overdose-reversing drug.
The Washington Post reports that Hogan today scoffed at that idea, and at a bill proposed by Baltimore County Del. Dan Morhaim that would let the state government authorize such centers around Maryland.