Maryland Gov.-elect Larry Hogan (R) said he plans to declare a state of emergency regarding Maryland’s struggles with heroin addiction and create a task force to figure out why the number of overdoses has steadily increased.
Lt. Gov.-elect Boyd Rutherford (R) will oversee the efforts.
“Every state on the East Coast has declared a state of emergency except Maryland — and Maryland has the worst problem,” Hogan told reporters Saturday morning at the state Republican Party’s fall convention in Howard County. “We’re going to do it. I think it’s just going to shine more light on the subject. It’s going to make people pay more attention to it.”
For the past few years, the number of heroin-related deaths has risen sharply on the East Coast, and governors have scrambled to address the issue — although not always specifically declaring a formal emergency.
In New Jersey, the administration of Gov. Chris Christie (R) organized a task force and issued a waiver to allow emergency responders to administer naloxone, a medication that can reverse the effects of an overdose. In Vermont, where some health and drug experts say the problem is especially dire, Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) devoted much of his State of the State address in January to talking about the heroin emergency. Massachusetts Gov. Deval L. Patrick (D) declared a “public health emergency” in his state in March.
In Maryland, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) signed an executive order in late June to form an overdose-prevention council that brings together leaders of various state agencies to coordinate a response.
Maryland has increased law enforcement efforts, launched a public awareness campaign, trained emergency responders and others to administer naloxone, and made the medication easier to obtain. Teams of experts are combing through autopsy reports to spot trends, and Maryland has compiled a database of information that officials think is one of the most sophisticated in the country.
Last year, more people in Maryland were killed by heroin than were murdered — and the number of deaths continued to climb during the first half of this year, with nearly 300 people killed, a 46 percent jump from the same time period last year.
The heroin epidemic is one of the few policy issues that Hogan has spoken about publicly since being elected; he often says he will not discuss specific issues until after his inauguration on Jan. 21. But he has said heroin is the No. 1 crime problem facing the state — so he plans to quickly bring together a summit of experts and interested parties to discuss what can be done.
Hogan said he hopes Maryland can also obtain additional federal funding, possibly from the Department of Health and Human Services, to pay for these efforts.The issue came up during a meeting of governors at the White House on Friday, he said.
“We’re going to try to put some more focus and some more money and attention to the problem,” Hogan said.