Targeting the evolving opioid threat requires tireless work to save lives

Targeting the evolving opioid threat requires tireless work to save lives
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During my campaign for governor in 2014, I traveled across Maryland with my running mate, Boyd Rutherford, asking voters one question: Which issue facing your community are you most concerned about? The answer we heard again and again, in every corner of our state, was heroin and opioid addiction.

It was by far the number one issue we heard about, from urban areas to nearly every suburban neighborhood and rural small town. We quickly realized how widespread the heroin and opioid crisis was throughout Maryland, and how many communities, families and lives this scourge was tearing apart.

Immediately after taking office, we set up a Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force, chaired by Lt. Gov. Rutherford, which developed 33 specific recommendations focused on a four-pronged approach: education, prevention, enforcement and treatment. We have acted to address or move forward on nearly all of these recommendations.

In March 2017, Maryland became the first state in the nation to declare a full-scale state of emergency in response to the heroin, opioid, and fentanyl crisis. In order to truly treat this crisis as we would a natural disaster or public safety emergency, we activated an Opioid Operational Command Center to more rapidly coordinate between state and local agencies, and dedicated an additional $50 million in funding over the next five years. In total, we have spent nearly half a billion in state and federal funding to combat opioid and substance use disorders.

Through legislation we have taken positive strides, we’ve expanded our state’s Good Samaritan Law and Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, imposed strict penalties on individuals distributing fentanyl, and passed legislation limiting the amount of opioids a health care provider can prescribe. This past June, our Department of Health issued a standing order allowing all Marylanders to be able to receive the life saving drug Naloxone from pharmacies, and in January, I authorized our attorney general to file suit against opioid manufacturers and distributors that have helped create the addiction crisis gripping our state and nation.

Yet, in spite of all of our efforts, in spite of us fighting with every tool we have at our disposal, this crisis continues to evolve, particularly with the threat of fentanyl and other synthetic additives, which can be 50 times to 100 times stronger than heroin.

While we’re seeing a slight drop in overdose deaths related to heroin and prescription opioids, fentanyl is now the most deadly controlled dangerous substance in our state. Of the 1,705 drug and alcohol-related deaths across Maryland in the first nine months of 2017, over 1,500 were opioid-related, and nearly 1,200 deaths were related to fentanyl. That’s a spike of more than 70 percent from the same period in 2016.

Combatting a crisis of this scale requires all levels of government working together. No state or community can go it alone. The majority of the deadly fentanyl is being shipped in from China or smuggled in from Mexico and we need the federal government to step in and stop this poison from ravaging our state and our nation.

That is the message I will be delivering to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee today, on behalf of Maryland and all the states and governors across our nation struggling to turn the tide on this crisis and prevent the senseless deaths of our citizens.

Maryland is working tirelessly to fight this epidemic, alongside our counties and municipalities, in neighborhoods and schools, with public health, human services and public safety. We need greater federal support, especially more targeted and aggressive federal enforcement efforts for fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.

Ultimately, this is about saving lives. It will take all of us to do that.

Larry Hogan is the 62nd governor of Maryland.