Pubdate: Wed, 26 Aug 2015
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2015 The Baltimore Sun Company
Author: Jean Marbella


Rutherford Says Size of Problem Outstrips Available Money

Cautioning that there likely would never be enough money to fix 
Maryland's heroin problem, Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford said Tuesday that 
a state task force recommends an expansion of treatment and 
prevention efforts to begin addressing it.

Among the recommendations, part of an interim report to the governor, 
are allocations such as $800,000 to a residential treatment facility 
in Kent County to increase its capacity to 40 beds, and $300,000 to 
Baltimore for a pilot program in which recovering addicts would reach 
out to and help current users.

"We made some recommendations, about 10 of them, that we felt we 
could address immediately or in the next week or so that have no real 
major financial burden," Rutherford said.

But, he added, the state's heroin crisis is so vast - overdose deaths 
attributed to the drug have more than doubled since 2010 - that it 
outstrips the amount of money available.

"We're not sure how we're going to fund this," Rutherford said of a 
range of state and local efforts to prevent and treat substance 
abuse. "It's probably never going to be enough."

Rutherford, who headed a task force of representatives from law 
enforcement, health and addictions fields, said the group would 
continue studying the issue and would make a final report to Gov. 
Larry Hogan in December.

In its interim report, the task force did not go as far as its 
counterpart in the city, which last month called for round-the-clock 
treatment on demand but did not identify a funding source. Advocates 
say that is what is needed to get more addicts on the path to recovery.

"We're turning about four people a week away," said John Herron, 
director of Tuerk House, a treatment program based in the Ashburton 
neighborhood. "The need is that great."

Of the 80 beds that Tuerk House has for in-patient treatment, 58 are 
state-funded, and they often are filled, he said.

By turning away addicts who are ready for treatment, a program runs 
the risk of losing them, perhaps forever, Herron said. Not only do 
you not know if they'll return when a bed is available, "you don't 
know if they'll live to next week," he said.

Herron said that while the state is not increasing his facility's 
funding as part of the task force recommendations, he remains hopeful 
that the increased attention paid to heroin addiction in recent years 
will have benefits.

"I think the time is right now, even if the state doesn't have the 
money, for the rest of the community to step up - the private sector, 
the foundation community," he said.

As for Rutherford's assessment that there probably will never be 
enough funding, Dr. Leana Wen, the city's health commissioner, said 
she sees the situation differently. Wen said there are research-based 
solutions to combating addiction, and public officials need to find 
ways to support them.

"We need to make a commitment to that," she said.

Wen said the city and state heroin task forces generally agree on 
goals such as reducing the stigma of addiction, increasing awareness 
of the problem and expanding access to treatment. Much of that work 
is already underway in Baltimore, which was dealing with a heroin 
crisis long before it became more pervasive in other parts of the 
state, she said.

The state task force's interim report detailed how the $2 million 
previously allocated for prevention and treatment would be disbursed, 
recommendations that Hogan has already agreed to.

In addition to the funds directed to the A.F. Whitsitt Center in Kent 
County and the Baltimore peer outreach program, the allocations 
include $500,000 to local health departments for training and 
distribution of naloxone, the opioid overdose-reversing drug, and 
$100,000 for recovery housing specifically for women with children.

The governor has also approved allocations of about $189,000 in crime 
prevention funds to assist police agencies in battling heroin 
trafficking. The Ocean City Police Department, for example, will 
receive $124,635 for license plate reader technology to help track 
heroin entering the state from other areas.

"You have to stop the pipeline," Rutherford said.

Andrew Pons, program director of the Whitsitt Center, said that 
getting "the lion's share" of the state's $2 million treatment funds 
would allow the facility to reduce its waiting list, which can grow 
as long as 50 people at times.

The center, the only state-run residential treatment facility on the 
Eastern Shore, had its funding reduced a couple of years ago and 
dropped from 44 beds to 26 beds. It plans to add eight beds for detox 
in the coming month, and as it increases staff, it will add more 
beds, Pons said.

"Detox is where the logjam is," Pons said of addicts waiting for 
space in the five-to seven-day program. "Most of the people on the 
waiting list are in need of detox."

Rutherford said that despite the amount of attention focused on 
heroin in recent years, awareness of addiction problems still must be 
improved, especially among youngsters.

"Every third-grader can tell you how bad cigarettes are," Rutherford 
said. "But they can't tell you how bad it is to take someone else's 
prescription pills."

He said previous awareness campaigns - such as "Just Say No" and the 
public service announcement equating a brain on drugs with an egg 
being fried - were effective because of their simple and memorable messages.

The task force, appointed shortly after Hogan took office in January, 
held six meetings across the state to hear from more than 200 law 
enforcement, medical and addictions personnel, as well as addicts and 
their families. Hogan, who said he has a cousin who died of an 
overdose, made combating heroin fatalities a campaign issue, although 
his initiatives to date have been similar to those put in place by 
his predecessor, Martin O'Malley.

Since 2010, the number of Marylanders who have died of heroin 
overdoses has more than doubled. Last year, 578 deaths were 
attributed to heroin, compared to 464 the previous year. The 
fatalities show no sign of abating: In the first three months of this 
year, 194 people died in Maryland of heroin overdoses, compared to 
146 during the same period last year.

Local, state and federal officials have been scrambling to reverse 
those trends.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie RawlingsBlake's task force, in addition to 
calling for on-demand treatment around the clock, recommended a 
public education campaign and a data-tracking system to identify "hot 
spots" of overdoses and treatment needs.

The Baltimore-Washington area also received federal attention last 
week, with the White House drug czar creating a multistate public 
health and law enforcement effort to combat the drug in Northeast and 
Appalachian areas that have been particularly hard hit.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom