CUMBERLAND — Ways to leverage state funding to battle the region's opioid crisis was one of several issues discussed by members of the local legislative delegation Friday morning during the pre-legislative breakfast at the Cumberland Country Club.

"Addictions is something that touches every one of us," said Del. Wendell Beitzel.

The breakfast is sponsored by the Allegany County Chamber of Commerce Legislative Committee annually to update local business owners and community members on issues likely to be tackled in the 2017 General Assembly session in Annapolis. The breakfast also gives individuals the chance to discuss policy strategies with the District 1 delegation. The delegation includes Beitzel, and his fellow delegates Mike McKay and Jason Buckel, along with Sen. George Edwards.

This year, community members wanted to know what officials are doing at the state level to curb substance abuse, specifically, opioids and heroin. McKay said that by providing dental insurance to individuals with Maryland state insurance, or Medicaid, substance abuse may decrease.

This is because many heroin addictions start with prescription drug use, according to Beitzel.

"One of the biggest causes (substance abuse) and one of the problems that needs to be corrected I think is there are too many physicians prescribing opiates for pain.

"Approximately, the numbers that I've heard, is approximately 60 percent of all the drug addicts in this country are drug addicts because they were given prescription drugs or access to some medicine," he said.

Maryland is one of seven states nationwide that does not include dental coverage under their Medicaid insurance package. When individuals are unable to secure dental care, they head to the local emergency room for pain relief, officials said. 

"Four million dollars, last year, was spent in the hospitals of the state of Maryland on Medicaid patients who came to the E.R. looking for relief when it came to oral health," said McKay.

Since some local emergency room cannot perform teeth extractions, or any services that will ultimately alleviate an individual's dental dilemmas, patients turn to prescription opiates.

To manage this situation, McKay is working with Maryland Secretary of Budget and Management David Brinkley to add dental care for Medicaid patients into the 2018 Maryland budget.

"It's another attack on this heroin issue that we have," said McKay.

Tri-County Council Assistant Director Guy Winterburg said the breakfast is a great way to stay informed. 

"I thought it was very informative and it's always nice to see what's coming up in this next legislative session," Winterburg said.

Follow staff writer Heather Wolford on Twitter @heatherbwolford.

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