The fight against opioid use throughout the country has continued for years now, but Maryland, specifically Southern Maryland, is looking to become a leader in drug and opioid use prevention.

In February, Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Charles, Calvert, Prince George’s) proposed the “Start Talking Maryland” act that would require educational programs throughout the state in school systems. According to the bill, the state would partner with its school systems, health departments and law enforcement programs to sponsor programs that will focus on prevention, education, treatment and recovery from opioid addiction.

The approach would be three-pronged, Miller said. The three separate issues would be education and prevention, treatment and rehabilitation, and recovery and maintenance.

A program like this is needed, Miller said, because the state is “fifth in the country per capita in terms of heroin and opioid-related deaths.”

In order to bring the bill together and make it something that could potentially be a benchmark for different places around the country, Miller said, state officials took pieces of programs from around the country and put them together.

There is also a “very successful” program operated in Calvert County, he said, doing things similarly.

The drug affects so many people on a daily basis, Miller said, so something had to be done within the state to combat it.

“There is not one person in this state who has not been affected by the tragedy of drug addiction in some way,” he said. “We know that opioids and opioid addictions kill and they are in every county, every city, every community and every school.”

The goal, Miller said, is to have conversations with adolescents about opioid addiction, what the potential effects are and what the effects look like. There have to be “tough conversations” with children in communities throughout the state to combat the issues at hand, he said.

“Start talking Maryland will help make that happen,” he said.

Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton (D-Charles) agreed with Miller that the conversations would be tough, but he said they “are needed” throughout the country, not only in Maryland.

The program proposed by Miller, he said, could serve as an example of how to fight opioid addiction throughout the country. Middleton said he spoke with a health consultant who called the program being proposed was “by far the best that he’s seen anywhere in the country. They could serve as a model,” Middleton said. “It’s going to pass.”

“We need to try to figure new ways to combat this addiction and problem — sounds like a good suggestion. Hopefully it can move forward and [will] work,” said Del. Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R-St. Mary’s, Calvert). “I am willing to look at any solution that can save at least one life or many.

“It will be interesting to see how we can get both of them to work together for the good of the people,” said Clark, about efforts to combat the opioid crisis through Hogan’s and Miller’s proposals.

This bill, Middleton said, will be packaged on the senate floor this week along with the Heroin and Opioid Prevention Effort and Treatment Initiative of 2017, which was introduced by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) in January.

Middleton said both bills will work in tandem and further push for the prevention of drug addiction in youth around the state.

Every community has the same problem with drug addiction, Middleton said. The issues that are in Charles County and Southern Maryland are “unbelievable,” he said.

Many parents are not even aware that children are “experimenting” with drugs and have potential drug problems, Middleton said. This program will change that, Middleton said.

“We need as many tools in the tool box as we can in order to combat this,” he said. “I don’t think we can start too soon.”

Twitter: @SykesIndyNews

Twitter: @SykesIndyNews​