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Battling the scourge of heroin


Baltimore Sun editorial -- Feb. 15, 2015

Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh's announcement this week that his office will join counterparts in five other states — Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania — to share information that helps authorities track down and prosecute heroin traffickers reflects a growing concern among state officials over the recent rise in overdose deaths from the drug. Heroin overdose deaths in Maryland have been going up every year since 2011, and the same thing is happening in neighboring states. In taking action that acknowledges the regional scope of the problem, Mr. Frosh is responding to a crisis that has taken a terrible toll in lives not just here but in states along the entire I-95 corridor from Maine to Maryland and beyond.

That's why we are eager for Mr. Hogan's to build on Maryland's so-far unsuccessful effort to reduce heroin overdose deaths by 20 percent by the end of this year. As governor he is responsible for overseeing the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and other state agencies that have a direct impact on policies to combat substance abuse, and it's imperative he maintain the investment Maryland already has made in drug treatment and recovery programs; increase training in the use of the heroin overdose antidote Narcan, also known as naloxone; and support other state initiatives such as local overdose fatality review teams, which examine overdose deaths to look for holes in the drug safety net, and the prescription drug monitoring program that alerts physicians and pharmacists to suspicious drug purchases.

Heroin addiction is a chronic disease that affects individuals from every walk of life in urban, suburban and rural communities alike. Treating it successfully requires a coordinated approach that includes both public safety measures and broad public health strategies. The attorney general's office has joined the fight against drug overdose deaths in a way that recognizes Maryland isn't the only state affected by this crisis and that it can magnify the impact of its initiatives by working more closely with regional partners who are experiencing the same problem. But only the governor has the power to lead the broader public health effort needed to make heroin overdoses a preventable illness that no longer takes the lives of hundreds of Marylanders each year. The sooner he develops a comprehensive plan to do so, the better.