Some Maryland health centers are reluctant to screen patients for drug abuse as part of a state intervention program because they’re concerned that there are not enough treatment beds available for addicts, a health official told a joint legislative panel on Tuesday.
“This is a big concern among health centers throughout the state,” said Bonnie Campbell,who heads Maryland’s Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment program. “They’re concerned they’ll identify patients who have substance-use problems and not be able to refer them to treatment.”
Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who lost a cousin to heroin addiction, had made fighting heroin addiction one of the priorities of his administration. More than 578 Marylanders died of heroin overdoses last year — an increase of 25 percent compared to 2013.
A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll released this month found that nearly 3 in 10 Marylanders have a close friend or family member who was or is addicted to opioids such as heroin and prescription pain pills.
Campbell said her group is working to relieve any concerns that health organizations have about treatment resources.
“We’re at the table with the health centers and with local health departments in those counties to use some grant dollars and other resources to make sure treatment is available,” she said.
Baltimore health officials also testified at Tuesday’s hearing, sharing lessons the city has learned from the its own efforts to combat addiction and overdose deaths.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D) launched a heroin task force in July, and the city has trained more than 4,000 people this year to use naloxone, a drug that can prevent death by reversing the effects of overdose.
“It’s literally that miracle drug that can save a person’s life, and it’s easy to use, easy to teach, and something that we should be doing,” said Baltimore City Health Commissioner Leana Wen.
More than 300 people died of overdoses in Baltimore last year, including 192 heroin-related deaths. Officials estimate that nearly 19,000 individuals use the drug in the city.
“We hope that, on the part of the governor’s office and lieutenant governor’s office, that they’ll look to us as an example so that no efforts need to be duplicated,” Wen said.