Allegany County Superintendent of Schools David Cox had a rapt audience in Washington recently as he told members of Congress how addiction to opioids is affecting public education in Western Maryland.

He was among four professionals from across the nation who testified before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce during a two-hour morning hearing.

The panel chairman, U.S. Rep. Ted Rokita, a Republican from Indiana, pointed out that there were 64,000 fatal drug overdoses in the United States last year, claiming 175 lives daily.

It’s no secret that Cumberland is in the midst of a heroin epidemic, a scourge that has spread coast to coast, from small towns to large cities. President Donald Trump recently declared a state of emergency. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan took action eight months ago.

The problem is so extreme that all public schools in Garrett and Allegany counties now stock the life-saving medication naloxone, which can reverse the effects of opioids, and elementary, middle and high school students are learning about heroin addiction in accordance with the Start Talking Maryland Act.

Children are taught about heroin and opioid addiction and prevention as well as the lethal effects of fentanyl once in each of the following grade levels: third through fifth, sixth through eighth and ninth through 12th. Younger kids also are told of the risks of harmful behavior by school nurses, resource officers or counselors.

Cox, who serves on the executive committee of the American Association of School Administrators, detailed unmet mental health needs among students and families. Allegany County statistics show 21 enrollment cancellations in the 2016-2017 school term directly related to drug abuse issues. 

He related accounts of home visits to families of pre-school students, one during which a child answered the door and said his mother was sleeping. She had in fact died from a drug overdose. 

Cox said he and the others fielded numerous questions from the lawmakers, including inquiries about federal funding. The superintendent said he asked to be granted greater flexibility on how that money is spent, and a continued commitment to the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

The recent testimony in the nation’s capital may influence how Congress appropriates cash and other resources to wage war on the needle. Mr. Cox should be commended for adding his voice and our perspective to the conversation.

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