Maryland and America are grappling with an opioid addiction crisis described as epidemic in proportion. It is the single largest killer of persons under 50, and the Centers for Disease Control reports 115 people nationwide die from opioid overdoses every day; other sources report the number is larger. Many more lives are destroyed, but to us these are more than numbers.
Our colleagues across the country are working to bring reform by lobbying lawmakers and regulators and suing predatory pharmaceutical companies and prescribers to end the easy flow of prescription painkillers.
This problem was many years in the making and change may be years off. For now, we have lawyers in Maryland addicted to opiates. Some will die, some will lose their licenses and some are hiding in the shadows struggling to manage family and practice while fueling an opioid addiction that may be the only satisfying part of their lives.
Putting aside the consequences of criminal acts to which many addicts resort to fuel their needs, when lawyers fall prey to addiction, the dysfunction is only magnified: from negligent or reckless representation to theft from clients and other acts of bad judgment.
We encourage any attorney struggling alone to break the cycle and seek help. We are not naive to believe that making the call for help is easy, or that it will solve the problem, but it’s a start and the alternatives are worse: Loss of family, loss of career and reputation and even loss of life. We all know lawyers who have been affected by opiates.
The MSBA Lawyer Assistance Program is a long-established resource that can help start the road to recovery in confidence. Founded in 1981, this program was designed to help lawyers regain control of their lives and practices. The program initially addressed alcohol abuse and evolved to address the broad issues of substance abuse. Today, the program provides “health and wellness” services to members dealing with a spectrum of personal issues that unaddressed have the potential to derail a career and much worse.
The call is very hard because the caller must first recognize that he or she has a problem, that he or she can’t fix the problem and that professional help is mandatory. Even then, it’s a battle to gain the upper hand over addiction.
But the alternative should be sobering.
On a national basis the majority of disbarments are rooted in unchecked addictions. If you see yourself in this editorial, please seek help. The MSBA Lawyer Assistance Program is a confidential place to start; you can get help by calling 1-800-492-1964.
Editorial Advisory Board members James B. Astrachan and H. Mark Stichel did not participate in this opinion.
EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERS
James B. Astrachan, Chair
James K. Archibald
John Bainbridge Jr.
Wesley D. Blakeslee
Arthur F. Fergenson
Marcella A. Holland
C. William Michaels
Angela W. Russell
Debra G. Schubert
H. Mark Stichel
The Daily Record Editorial Advisory Board is composed of members of the legal profession who serve voluntarily and are independent of The Daily Record. Through their ongoing exchange of views, members of the Board attempt to develop consensus on issues of importance to the Bench, Bar and public. When their minds meet, unsigned opinions will result. When they differ, majority views and signed rebuttals will appear. Members of the community are invited to contribute letters to the editor and/or columns about opinions expressed by the Editorial Advisory Board.