pills on the US Map


Maryland’s Heroin Task Force Meets at Baltimore Law Center (courtesy: the Baltimore Sun)

BALTIMORE, Maryland – It’s no surprise in our State of Affairs this week that heroin is ferociously attacking the state of Maryland. It is, after all, an addiction devouring the U.S. piece by piece. Last week we learned about the dangerous Hepatitis C outbreak in Massachusetts, and the small part of Indiana that has seen over 100 new HIV cases in just one month. 

We turn our attention now to the extremely blue state of Maryland, where newly elected Republican Governor Larry Hogan has made the epidemic a priority. Running on a campaign to expand drug treatment programs and strengthen drug courts, Governor Hogan established the state’s Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force during his first 2 weeks in office.

Hogan, in a news conference in February, reportedly choked up several time as he described the devastation he had seen from heroin while touring the state, telling the Baltimore Sun “This used to be considered an urban problem, not anymore” and “we won’t be able to arrest our way out of the crisis”, and calling heroin the state’s #1 priority.

To get the scoop on the state’s new approach to the battle raging across the U.S., we talked with Executive Director of the Maryland Addiction Directors Council Tracey Myers-Preston, who is also a member of the Governor’s task force, and says heroin is the state’s biggest issue.

“Governor Hogan has done a fabulous job making the issue a priority,” says Myers-Preston. “He signed the executive order after a couple of weeks in office after talking to patients in recovery and parents while traveling the state.”

The task force has already sounded the alarm to members of the state health department. Because Maryland’s state legislature only meets 90 days out of the year, the group is already working on recommendations for more resources. Myers-Preston says Maryland, like most other states, has seen an increase in heroin use due to a prescription painkiller crackdown. One thing that has the potential to escalate the problem is that, while in most other states the prescription monitoring program is mandatory, in Maryland it is not. Myers-Preston says while this is the case, many healthcare facilities willingly participate.

“We work with a number of these associations, as well as training treatment providers in local communities,” says Myers-Preston.

Haddonfield residents meet to air concerns about rehab proposed next door to local high school (Courtesy: Courier-Post)

Residential detox is a challenge in Maryland, but mostly on a federal level. We have seen a lack of resources in a number of states, and the task force finally gave us some insight into why. The Institute of Mental Disease in the 1970s, in an effort to keep people from being locked up in institutions against their will, prohibited facilities having more than 16 beds from receiving Medicaid funds. A good and necessary idea at the time, the law has since become outdated, and doesn’t work well in the substance abuse treatment industry.

“You can’t take $1 from Medicaid if you have more than 16 beds,” says Myers-Preston. “Maryland assesses many people who qualify for detox and they can’t access it for this reason. A lot of individuals addicted to heroin need inpatient detox to begin to step them down.”

Overdoses rose 95% in the past 3 years in Maryland. Bad batches of Fentanyl-laced heroin have also made their way to the state. The painkiller is estimated to be 80 times more powerful than morphine. Last year, 37 Marylanders died in just 4 months of overdoses after taking the mixture. This may have been instrumental in the passing of Maryland’s Good Samaritan law, which allows people to receive prescriptions for Naloxone, a known antidote for heroin overdoses. Maryland took it a step further and granted immunity to law enforcement officials receiving and carrying the drug.

Maryland has fortunately not seen new drugs pop up in the state like Texas’ Houston Cocktail or Ohio’s Gravel. This could be in part due to the fact that, while many states have seen cuts in drug education, prevention and treatment programs, Maryland is in a sense the antithetical solution.

The Governor recently allocated an additional $2 million. As we’ve learned from other states, it takes dollars, and there’s a lot of stigma and misunderstanding surrounding addiction.

“I think this requires states to have a substance abuse disorder content expertise and a broader range of understanding,” says Myers-Preston. “There’s not enough substance abuse expertise at the highest level of government in most states.”

Myers-Preston suggests that a growing epidemic like this which affects more and more people requires money to efficiently educate the public and de-stigmatize the disease.

Somerset County Health Department’s “Unmask Addiction” campaign tackles user misconceptions (Photo Courtesy: Delmarvanow)

“We don’t have these debates around diabetes and hypertension and other diseases with the potential of relapse,” says Myers-Preston. “We don’t say ‘okay, we’re only going to treat your diabetes with diet and not give you any insulin.’ Legislative leaders need content experts.”

Myers-Preston says removing the politics from the Affordable Care Act is key to keeping people well and not sick.

“We need to invite addiction into the health and wellness arena and stop marginalizing individuals,” says Myers-Preston. “Put this disease in health care and treat these people with dignity. STOP using language like ‘addict’, ‘clean’, ‘dirty’. Because of the criminal justice model we shame these people. If we all take responsibility for removing the stigma, we could move mountains.”

The Maryland Addiction Directors Council will host an educational forum June 8 at the Conference Center at Sheppard Pratt.

Since 2009, Tracey Myers-Preston has served as the Executive Director of the Maryland Addictions Directors Council (MADC). Recruited to transform and grow the statewide organization during a period of sweeping national change in healthcare, Tracey leads all of the Association’s activities including operations and governance, sustainability, membership, public policy and advocacy and workforce development. Under Tracey’s leadership MADC has steadily increased its membership and influence in the public policy arena. She is known for her innovative and collaborative leadership style and strength in addressing the stigma associated with substance use disorders. She is a champion for efforts that place behavioral health as an integral component of public health. Tracey is consistently recognized as a results-driven, organizational and capacity development expert with a transformational and facilitative leadership style. She draws on a whole suite of multi-disciplinary approaches and maintains a fierce focus on expanding influence, constituency engagement, building new partnerships, and strategically positioning organizations to identify and attain their goals. At the heart of her works she inspires and creates meaning-informed transformation. Tracey earned a BS in political science and mass communications and an MA in political advocacy and strategic communications. She has served in executive  leadership positions for over 20 years and is a highly sought-after volunteer advocate consistently called upon to launch new efforts and build engaged and committed constituencies in her local community. Beyond her professional endeavors, Tracey is the mother of four and lives with her husband and children in Towson, MD.

The Maryland Addictions Directors Council (MADC) advocates for quality addiction services that promote healthy individuals, strong families and thriving communities. Addiction is a preventable and treatable disease, and as such members convene as public health advocates to promote and speed the transition with which our state understands and acts upon the disease of addiction.  Membership is made up of a coordinated and effective collaboration of groups and individuals who care about whole health at the intersection of the disease of addiction and who mobilize to influence public policy, advance public awareness and facilitate educational workforce opportunities that expand access, capacity, and best-practice quality care.

Vertava Health provides the most comprehensive addiction treatment program in the country by going beyond the standard 30 day plan and treating persons struggling with addiction mentally and spiritually to break the cycle of repeated visits to treatment. Utilizing our addiction campus environment we have the depth of caring staff, industry experience and clinical proficiency to effectively treat the disease of addiction for life. Vertava Health’ admissions center is trained to assess and place the client into one of the Vertava Health treatment centers across the country within a 1 hour time frame. This speed in service delivery and thorough commitment to the client long term allows the person struggling with addiction to get quickly on the road to recovery and create a life that’s worth living.

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