Hogan thinks federal government should play greater role in opioid crisis

Gov. Larry Hogan greets Liam Wilson, 20 months, with his grandmother, Theresa Mellinger, of Baltimore, Saturday during the Autumn Glory Grand Feature Parade. This is the third year the family has traveled to Oakland for the celebration.

OAKLAND — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan wants the federal government to follow up with funding after President Donald Trump’s declared of a national state of emergency in response to the country’s opioid epidemic.

"The (heroin) problem is still growing" Hogan said, "and I've said over and over again, it's going to take the federal government. I wanted the president to declare a state of emergency, and I want the federal government to put more resources into it, because it's literally the number one health crisis we have in the country." 

The Cumberland Times-News caught up with the governor following the Autumn Glory Parade in Oakland on Saturday during his two-day trip to Western Maryland. 

Maryland became the first state in the nation to declare a state of emergency over the heroin epidemic in March after Hogan signed an executive order in response to the crisis. The announcement immediately allotted an additional $50 million over a five-year period to help combat the issue statewide. 

"This year, we became the first state in the nation to actually declare a real state of emergency and set up our operational command center just like we would for a major crisis, like we did for the (Baltimore) riots or like you would do for a hurricane," said Hogan.

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, more people die from opioid-related overdoses in the U.S. than any other accidental death, making it the leading cause of death in the nation. That means gun violence, homicide and automobile accidents don't come close to claiming the amount of lives opioids do, yet the government hasn't freed up necessary funds to combat the issue. 

The first piece of legislation passed by the federal government to remedy the opioid crisis was signed by former President Barack Obama in December 2016. The 21st Century Cures Act allotted $1 billion to the national opioid crisis, but allows the Federal Drug Administration more lenient scientific guideline studies on medications and clinical trials. 

Hogan said it was the staggering number of opioid-related overdose deaths in Maryland (more than 2,000 in 2016) that pushed him to make the decision. He said state officials have attacked the problem from all angles, yet the problem continues to worsen.

"We've tried everything" Hogan said, "from every direction, we've put more into education, treatment, interdiction, crime fighting. We've put drug coordinators (heroin coordinators) in almost every county and they have really helped the local police and sheriff departments."

Hogan said one reason the deaths continue (more than 500 in the first quarter of 2017) is the evolution of the opioid crisis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 70 percent of heroin addicts started with prescription opioids. Officials implemented a Prescription Drug Monitoring program, as well as legislation to reduce the amount of time people can be prescribed opioids, then fentanyl hit. 

"This crisis continues to evolve, which is what makes it so difficult," said Hogan. "It started out primarily as prescription pain meds, and we started to get a little bit of a handle on that; we have a drug monitoring program and we've been trying to put limits on what people prescribe, and there's much more awareness on how dangerous it is and doctors are doing a much better job of that. But a lot of folks were already addicted and they shifted to heroin which is much cheaper and then it's now shifted to these synthetics ... a lot of people are dying the first time they try (fentanyl)," said Hogan.

Fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid coming from China about 100 times stronger than heroin. Even worse is an elephant tranquilizer known as is carfentanyl. A dose as small as a grain of table salt is deadly to humans. 

According to Hogan, about a third of individuals who have died from opioid-related overdoses this year in Maryland were fentanyl-related.

"For the first time ever, the majority of (deaths), something like 387 I think, were fentanyl- and carfentanyl-related instead of heroin. So it shifts, so they thought they could shut down some of the heroin but now from China they're manufacturing these new fake (drugs) and it's coming in from a different direction," he said.

He said everyone, including the federal government, needs to be on top of the problem.

"This is going to take federal government, state government, county government, municipal government, faith-based groups, private sector, nonprofit organizations, all the way down to churches and families. Everybody has to be on top of this, it's like an all hands on deck call to action."

Follow staff writer Heather Wolford on Twitter @heatherbwolford.

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