FREDERICK — Gov.-elect Larry Hogan said Friday his lieutenant governor, Boyd Rutherford, will oversee the new administration’s efforts to reverse a spike in heroin use, overdose deaths and related crime across Maryland.
Hogan spoke to reporters at a swearing-in ceremony for Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins, a fellow Republican whom Hogan said was the first to make him aware of the depth of heroin- and gang-related crime in rural communities.
Hogan repeated his campaign promise to quickly declare a state of emergency after he takes office Jan. 21, making Maryland eligible for more federal funding and support for anti-drug measures. He said his administration will convene a summit of experts on criminal justice, drug treatment, mental health and emergency care to address heroin use.
“We’re going to pull together the smartest minds that we can from around the state and around the country to try to come up with some solutions and get more focus put on this problem,” Hogan said.
Heroin-related deaths in Maryland spiked 88 percent from 2011 to 2013, according to the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The agency reported 296 fatal heroin overdoses statewide in the first half of 2014, putting Maryland on track to far exceed the 464 such deaths reported for all of 2013.
In June, outgoing Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley created an Overdose Prevention Council to focus on the problem. More than 4,000 people, including about 1,500 law enforcement officers, have been trained and certified to dispense naloxone, a life-saving medication that can quickly restore the breathing of a person who has overdosed on heroin or opiate painkillers.
Jenkins said Friday his deputies have saved four lives with the medication while conducting or participating in drug enforcement operations that led to charges against more than 90 people.
Hogan sidestepped a question about Jenkins’ tough approach to illegal immigration. The sheriff has embraced programs allowing local police to enforce federal immigration laws. Last summer, he visited the porous U.S.-Mexico border on a tour sponsored by the Federation for Immigration Reform, which the Southern Poverty Law Center considers a hate group. The group rejects that label.