Pubdate: Mon, 19 Jun 2017
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2017 The Baltimore Sun Company
Author: Pamela Wood


In the ongoing battle to stem the heroin and opiate epidemic in
Maryland, the newest focus is a state law that mandates teaching
students in elementary schools through college about the dangers of
the drugs.

Public schools are tweaking drug-education lessons and colleges are
preparing sessions for incoming students to comply with the Start
Talking Maryland Act, which becomes law July 1.

The act, passed by state lawmakers and signed by Gov. Larry Hogan
earlier this year, requires public schools to offer drug-education
that includes the dangers of heroin and opiates starting in elementary

It also requires public schools to stock the overdose-reversal drug
naloxone, have staff trained to use it and to report naloxone uses to
the state.

"The key is to start talking about it," said Del. Eric Bromwell, a
Baltimore County Democrat one of the lead sponsors of the measure.
"You really need to get to people sooner and you need to get to them
over and over again."

The college will also have doses of Narcan on hand and its special
police officers will know how to administer it, according to college...

The college will also have doses of Narcan on hand and its special
police officers will know how to administer it, according to
college... (ERIKA BUTLER)

The law requires that education about heroin and opiates takes place
during at least three phases of a student's career -- once between
third and fifth grade, then also between sixth and eighth grade and
again between ninth and 12th grade.

The law also requires all colleges and universities that accept state
funding to have a heroin and opioid prevention plan that includes
education for incoming, full-time students as well as training in
naloxone for campus police and public safety officers.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. was lead sponsor of the
bill in the Senate. He said it was important to have education as a
component among the heroin-related legislation that passed the General
Assembly this year.

"It's everywhere," the Calvert County Democrat said. "It affects all
segments of society, rich to poor. It's a crisis that we need to
identify and make educators as well as parents aware of it, and
provide the resources to deal with it."

Maryland's opioid epidemic shows no signs of abating, even as
politicians and health officials scramble to prevent overdose deaths
and provide more treatment options for those who are addicted to
opioid drugs.

In 2016, Maryland experienced 2,089 deaths from drug and alcohol
overdoses, a 66 percent increase that was driven largely by deaths
associated with opioid drugs including heroin and fentanyl. Fentanyl
is a potent drug that's often mixed into heroin without a user's knowledge.

In recent months, officials have seen a surge in overdoses due to the
synthetic opioid carfentanil. Developed as a sedative for large
animals, carfentanil is said to be 100 times stronger than fentanyl,
which itself is 50 times stronger than heroin.

Officials have attacked the problem in a variety of ways: Expanding
access to naloxone, providing guidance to doctors about prescribing
addictive painkillers, improving a prescription drug monitoring
program and launching hotlines to connect people with treatment.

Hogan earlier this year declared a state of emergency and opened an
Opioid Operational Command Center. Baltimore's health commissioner
recently reported that the city is running low on naloxone.

Maryland colleges and universities are beginning to work on how to
incorporate heroin education into programs for incoming students to
comply with the new law.

On Monday, top higher education officials -- including representatives
from the University System of Maryland, private colleges and community
colleges and the state secretary of higher education -- were briefed
on the law's requirements, said Lee Towers, legislative director for
the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

The University System of Maryland, which includes a dozen institutions
and two regional higher education centers, supported the legislation
that created the new law. At the University of Maryland, College Park,
the state's largest university, officials are evaluating how to comply
with it.

"Education is essential to addressing the heroin and opioid problem in
Maryland," Dr. David McBride, director of College Park's University
Health Center, said in a statement.

Harford Community College is working to include about a half-hour
session on heroin into student orientation programs, said Nancy
Dysard, the college's director of marketing and public relations.

Dysard said it shouldn't be difficult for the college to comply with
the law as it has a close working relationship with the Harford County
Sheriff's Office. The college already has public safety officers
trained and equipped with naloxone, as well as some nursing students
and psychology students, she said.

Howard Community College, meanwhile, plans to develop an online course
on heroin for incoming students, said spokeswoman Elizabeth Homan.
"That really works well for our population," she said.

As with Harford, Howard Community College already has equipped its
public safety officers with naloxone.

At lower grade levels, school systems are using summer break to update
or revamp their drug-education programs. The Maryland State Department
of Education provided a $4,000 grant to each of the 24 local school
systems to help kick start those efforts.

Baltimore County is using its grant to hire curriculum writers to
revise lessons taught from elementary schools to high schools, said
Joe Leake, health education supervisor for the school system.

It's important to update the lessons so students understand the
pitfalls of opiates -- not just illegal drugs like heroin, but
prescription drugs like morphine, Leake said.

"Some kids may think: 'It's prescribed by a doctor, how bad can it
be?'" Leake said. "They have no idea of the addictive properties of
opiates. They have no idea. Hopefully with the new resources we'll put
in, we can combat that."

Leake said Baltimore County's instruction is geared toward different
age groups. Lessons for the youngest elementary students focus on
medicine safety and not taking someone else's medication. Later, they
learn about peer pressure and making smart choices. Older students
learn more details about the dangers of various drugs.

This past year Baltimore County teamed with CVS to bring pharmacists
into some high schools to speak to students about opiate addiction --
a program that could expand this year. The system is looking at
bringing police officers into classrooms, too.

Anne Arundel County is using its state grant to buy more books on
addiction for elementary students and to buy materials on heroin for a
parents' conference planned for the fall, said Gayle Cicero, director
of student services.

Cicero said the system has been increasing its focus on heroin and
opioids in the last couple years, including producing a video
featuring local parents of children who died from overdoses. She said
those videos, shown to older students, help drive home the fact that
heroin addiction is a problem in their community.

"This isn't just a story or a problem that happens somewhere else.
They live in Anne Arundel County. The mom you hear speaking; they went
to our schools," Cicero said. "That's a powerful addition to the
education piece."

State Sen. Kathy Klausmeier, a Baltimore County Democrat, said she
knows parents who have lost children to heroin addiction, and said
many teenagers don't appreciate just how risky heroin, fentanyl and
other opioids can be.

"When I'm with a group of kids, I tell them, point blank -- 'Stay away
from heroin' -- and they kind of look at you like you're crazy."

"I don't think they realize it's as severe as it is," she said. "We
can't just say, 'Drugs are bad. Alcohol is bad.' This is the worst --
and this could happen to you with one time."
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