ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday laid out plans to fight rising heroin overdoses, citing widespread citizen concern and personalizing the problem by noting the loss of his own cousin to an overdose a few years ago.
The governor said he was shocked by how often he heard Maryland residents talk about the depth of the problem throughout the state as he campaigned last year.
“Everywhere we went, we were saddened by the stories of how just under the surface of every community heroin was destroying lives,” Hogan said, choking up as he recalled what he heard so often in communities large and small. “It was tearing apart families and overrunning local and state efforts to respond to what is a public health, law enforcement and social crisis.”
The Republican governor has formed a council and a separate task force on the problem. Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford will lead the effort. The task force will meet regularly and seek guidance from educators, families and other stakeholders. The council includes the state health department and law enforcement agencies. It will share data to support the public health response to the problem. The council also will develop recommendations for policy, regulations and legislation.
Maryland has received a donation of about 5,000 doses of an overdose antidote for heroin from a company called Kaleo Pharmaceuticals. Evzio is the only Naloxone auto-injector that is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use by laymen to reverse a suspected overdose.
Hogan also announced that $500,000 of a federal grant will be used to expand re-entry programs to help inmates leaving prison stay off of heroin. It combines non-addictive medications and behavioral health counseling following release.
Between 2010 and 2013, Maryland had a 95 percent increase in heroin-related overdose deaths, Hogan said. In 2013, there were 464 heroin-related overdose deaths, more than the 387 homicides in the state.
Preliminary data for heroin-related deaths in 2014 are on pace to surpass 2013 deaths by 20 percent, Hogan said.
“Dealing with this problem is an emergency which we simply must address,” Hogan said.
Other Maryland officials also are working to address the problem.
Attorney General Brian Frosh this month announced a task force that will leverage the resources of several northeast and mid-Atlantic states to battle the cross-border distribution of heroin. Deaths from heroin overdoses have been rising in other states as people who had been abusing painkillers have moved from high-priced pills to more affordable heroin.
Maryland lawmakers also have introduced legislation this session aimed at fighting the problem. One measure would make it easier for patients to get “abuse-deterrent drugs.” Another would create a consortium of experts to work on a long-term plan to reduce heroin addiction.