Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is allocating $3 million in additional state funds to combat heroin addiction, his office announced Monday.
Two initiatives will benefit from the new money, which fulfills a pair of recommendations made in December by the state’s Heroin & Opioid Emergency Task Force, which was overseen by Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford.
A total of $931,371 will go toward funding the first recommendation, which is to pay for heroin coordinator positions in 18 law enforcement agencies around the state. These coordinators help make sure data about drug seizures, investigations and arrests is shared with other jurisdictions to help law enforcement agencies identify drug traffickers, according to the governor’s office.
Another $2.1 million will support the Safe Streets Initiative, led by the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention, in nine jurisdictions. That program is focused on differentiating between the most serious and violent drug offenders — who should be arrested and prosecuted — and those who should be connected with substance-abuse treatment.
Those Safe Streets funds will support the hiring of “peer recovery specialists,” people who are recovering from substance-abuse or mental-health issues themselves who have been trained to provide support to others who need treatment.
The program should be able to identify people with addictions and connect them to treatment as soon as they are arrested — giving authorities more time to help them turn their lives around, Rutherford said.
The Maryland Safe Streets Initiative is not to be confused with the Save Streets program run by the Baltimore City Health Department, an effort that sends outreach workers — many of them with firsthand experience of life on the streets — into neighborhoods prone to violence to get to know residents and help defuse potentially violent situations.
That program is in danger of being shut down now that Hogan has said he won’t allocate $80 million in funds set aside by the General Assembly; those funds included $1 million for Baltimore’s Safe Streets, which Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen says has been effective in reducing violence.
Monday’s announcement about new heroin coordinators struck one local drug treatment advocate as counterproductive — focusing on law enforcement rather than making treatment available to more people.
“Treatment is NOT available to Maryland residents unless they have a lot of money,” wrote Mike Gimbel, a former heroin addict who spent 23 years as head of substance abuse services in Baltimore County, in an email statement. “No heroin solution will work without ‘treatment on demand.'”