CUMBERLAND — Mayor Brian Grim and City Council officials are looking for financial assistance to offset the growing costs associated with the opioid epidemic in the area.
The mayor and council met with the members of the District 1 Legislative Delegation on Wednesday to discuss the issue.
Grim said he wished to join the “chorus of municipalities in need of further support for combating the issue.”
“The reality is that every time someone calls for these services there is a significant expense to the taxpayer that for the most part aren’t using these illegal substances,” Grim said.
In addition to the escalation in calls for ambulance and emergency services, the city is also covering the cost of medication. Grim said he would like to investigate methods of recouping costs of the opioid overdose antidote naloxone, commonly referred to by the brand name Narcan. Used by first responders, the drug cancels the effect of opioids including heroin, saving lives in the process.
“We request initiation of a state grant program to assist fire and EMS services in funding the growing costs of this epidemic as well as continued support from the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention funding that is being utilized to target the worst offenders on our local streets, particularly those distributing drugs,” Grim said.
In attendance at the meeting were Sen. George Edwards and Dels. Wendell Beitzel, Jason Buckel and Mike McKay.
The cost of naloxone, which comes in a shot or nasal spray, has skyrocketed over the last three years.
“The Allegany County Health Department gives the Narcan out free,” said Mckay. “They are like 75 bucks a pop, every time. I know the local fire companies are covering that. Has there been a conversation with the health department? Maybe there is a certain amount that could be designated to the city of Cumberland.”
City Councilman Dave Caporale agreed that reaching out to the health department would be a positive step.
Grim said he would also like to “explore efforts to collect the costs of service calls related to overdoses and Narcan through a means such as attachment to property tax bills or forfeiture of income tax refunds.”
“That would actually require enabling legislation,” said Buckel. “That doesn’t take care of the problem of those who are drug users who don’t own any property or things of that nature. Some people it may give you something.”
Grim suggested the FEMA supported grant program SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) as a potential source for funds.
“We would also like to look at the possibly of some sort of statewide SAFER grant that supports fire and EMS,” said Grim. “It is certainly known that the opioid, addictions and heroin use is a problem throughout the state. One thing we recognize is there is direct tie to the strain on EMS services and police services as a result of it.”
Beitzel said some measures are being taken to tackle the problem.
“I think there will be some things come from the governor’s initiative to try to curb the opiate use,” said Beitzel. “West Virginia is already putting in legislation that requires all the physicians and all drug stores and pharmacies to get a database on who’s prescribing and who’s buying them, and make sure they don’t jump from one doctor to another and one pharmacy to another.
“So many of these drugs are just prescribed,” Beitzel added. “Doctors say they want to make you comfortable. There is no sense of what this (narcotic medication) can do to a person. It leads you to the road to dependency. Your life is messed up. You may well be uncomfortable from your procedure but you’re going to be messed up the rest of your life from a drug that will lead to dependency.”
Since 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of drug-related deaths have surpassed firearm and motor vehicle related fatalities.
The meeting was an effort by the delegation to organize a list of priorities to pursue at the upcoming session of the Maryland General Assembly, which opens Wednesday.