CUMBERLAND — U.S. Rep. David Trone submitted a bill to Congress Friday that would fund support services for families who are struggling to help family members addicted to drugs.
Trone said the bill, which has bipartisan support, was submitted to the House of Representatives and the Senate on Friday.
“From there it will go into committee, but we think we are in a good position. We feel pretty good about it,” said Trone in a Times-News interview. “What we are trying to do with this bill is work with the family around addiction.”
The bill is seeking national funding of $25 million, which would be allocated at $5 million per year for five years, 2021 to 2026. The description said the bill is “to establish a grant program for family community organizations that provide support for individuals struggling with substance use disorder and their families.”
The local agency that would receive a portion of the funding to administer the program is the Maryland Health Education Center West (AHEC) at 39 Baltimore St.
“This bill is different in that it is looking at the families around them which is unique,” said Trone. “AHEC is a perfect example of a group that knows the landscape. AHEC has the experience. They have lived with the families facing the tragedy of addiction. It’s a world no one thought they would be thrown into.”
Trone said he is grateful for the support of numerous elected officials, including U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and U.S. Rep. Dan Meuser (R-Pa.).
Trone has aggressively joined the fight against drug addiction, particularly opioids, following the death of his nephew Ian from a fentanyl drug overdose three years ago.
“I spent five years trying to help him,” he said. “It was difficult and very inefficient, but if there was a group like AHEC and I can pick up the phone and I have someone who is addicted (I can ask) where can I get the best help, the best program? Should it be close to someone or far away? People are struggling and looking for answers.”
Trone said there were 68,000 deaths in the U.S. last year from drug overdoses and 49,000 were fentanyl-related. He said the funding will increase outreach to families by adding staff and resources.
“We’ve forgotten about the families,” said Trone. “Sometimes you don’t know where to turn. If we have places that can talk to someone who can help their loved one and provide support it can fulfill a need.
“Ian was with us that Christmas. He had a great 15 to 17 days (sober) but one day he got tired. He went back into addiction. He was 24 and in the prime of his life.”
AHEC serves Allegany, Garrett, Washington and Frederick counties as well as portions of West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Susan Stewart is the executive director of AHEC.
“We are excited and hopeful about the bill,” said Stewart. “Currently we are involved in a couple things with opioids. One of the needs we identified is funding support for families. There are different ways to pursue recovery. You get financial support in a formal foster setting, but you don’t get it with addictions.”
Stewart said several entities locally have been collaborating on solutions for the opioid crisis, including the Allegany County Health Department, Western Maryland Health System and the numerous law enforcement agencies.
“There is a big push for change with the system,” said Stewart. “There has been a lot of research going on, and people are demanding that we use the research.”
Jade Kenney, community outreach worker with AHEC, is a recovering addict. She has dedicated her life to helping, primarily women, fight the battle against addiction.
“There is hope,” said Kenney. “I think the new bill will help. We are looking for new ways to approach the problem. Another suggesting I have asked Rep. Trone about is creating a mentor program. I know I didn’t have someone to look up to for it. There is a lot of people who are investing time into making change and that is encouraging.”
Follow staff writer Greg Larry on Twitter @GregLarryCTN.