Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Charles, Prince George’s) received an award Oct. 11 from advocacy groups for his role in passing legislation to fight the growing opioid crisis.
Miller was the lead sponsor of the Heroin and Opioid Education and Community Action Act, or Start Talking Maryland Act. The bill, which became law in July, requires public schools to teach students about drug addiction and the danger of opioids. It was one of the bills passed in the 2017 legislative session to address the state’s worsening opioid epidemic.
“It’s a tough thing to talk about,” Miller said, noting people have to understand that parents need to know what to look for among their children.
Miller said in April that the passage of the comprehensive legislative package to tackle the opioid epidemic statewide is one of the efforts of which he was most proud.
His legislation, coupled with the Heroin and Opioid Prevention Effort and Treatment Act of 2017 introduced by Sen. Katherine Klausmeier (D-Baltimore County), addresses treatment, education and the awareness aspects of the escalating drug epidemic.
“The number of slots available for drug court needs to be increased; the number of treatment beds need to be addressed,” Miller said. “We can do better. We are on top of things. But we can do a whole lot better.”
Dr. Nancy Rose-Cohen said the award that went to Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch (D-Anne Arundel) is their way of saying thank you to the leadership in the General Assembly for understanding the opioid crisis.
Rose-Cohen is the executive director of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence of Maryland, one of the advocacy groups that partnered together to present the award.
If the leadership didn’t push the legislation through, “we could advocate for years, and people could keep dying, but until you have the legislation that [increases] access to treatment, I think we would be in a world of trouble,” she said.
The number of Marylanders who died from drug- and alcohol-related overdoses in 2016 reached an all-time high of 2,089, a 66 percent increase from 2015, according to the state’s health department.
Similar to the upward trend statewide, Southern Maryland saw 88 deaths in 2016, a nearly 50 percent increase compared to 2015.
“A young neighbor overdosed on my beach two weeks ago,” and the funeral service was held Saturday, said Miller, who lives in Chesapeake Beach. “I see what’s happened.”
Noting Maryland is the fifth-worst state in the country for opioid–related deaths, Miller said: “This has got to stop.”
Substances like heroin and fentanyl now kill more people every year than car accidents. The total number of those who died from overdoses in the tri-county region was nearly double the number of those who were killed in car accidents in 2016.
Earlier this year, St. Mary’s became the first jurisdiction in the state to charge drug suppliers with second-degree murder when victims die.
“I have no problem with it at all, quite frankly,” Miller said. “Fentanyl is almost instantaneous death. It’s too dangerous for amateurs to be involved in.”
For those who are involved in fentanyl distribution, they have to understand that there are consequences to their actions, he said.
The year 2017 is on track to become the worst for St. Mary’s County in terms of opioid-related deaths. In the first six months alone, 20 people died from drug overdoses, surpassing the total overdose fatalities for all of 2016, which was 15.
The St. Mary’s sheriff’s office handled 23 opioid-related overdose deaths as of Oct. 11, according to Julie Yingling, interim public information officer from the sheriff’s office.
As of Oct. 11, Calvert had 21 fatal overdoses out of 133 total overdoses, according to Joe Windsor, drug intelligence program coordinator at Calvert’s sheriff’s office. In 2016, Calvert saw 28 overdose fatalities.
In 2016, Charles County saw 45 overdose deaths. As of Oct. 11, out of 219 overdose cases, 27 of them were fatal, according to Diane Richardson with the Charles sheriff’s office.