Maryland, Alaska Have Declared Opioid Epidemic Emergency

Updated 31 weeks ago Edited by Tony Rutherford from Multiple Reports

More than 50,000 Americans have perished since 2015 due to the opioid overdose crisis.

“We need to treat this crisis the exact same way we would treat any other state emergency,” said Maryland Governor Larry Hogan in a March 2017 statement announcing the declaration. “We must cut through the red tape so that we are empowering the important work being done in our many state agencies and at the local level all across our state. This is about taking an all-hands-on-deck approach so that together we can save the lives of thousands of Marylanders.”

They are not alone.

Alaska Governor Bill Walker took a similar step in February. This allowed law enforcement and other groups to administer Narcan.

Dr. Jay Butler , the state's chief medical officer, explained this is the first time Gov. Walker has declared a public health emergency.

Nationally, heroin abuse began to rise about 15 years ago, according to Butler. Prescription painkiller deaths increased in Alaska about a decade ago. Heroin hit hard starting five or six years ago ---  heroin-associated deaths  quadrupled between 2009 and 2015.

Butler explained that the epidemic's wave has yet to crest. Instead, during the last two years, treacherous painkillers like fentanyl have become more prominent in the state. he said.  Novel lab-made forms of synthetic opioids have appeared too.

Massachusette declared an opioid public health emergency in 2014. That  led to all emergency personnel being equipped with naloxone (narcan), an opioid overdose antidote. Last year, Virginia followed suit, which allowed naloxone to be made available over-the-counter. States like Florida and Ohio have debated whether to do so as well.

Florida did not take the step despite the number of heroin deaths rising nearly 80 percent from 2014 to 2015. Fentanyl deaths rose 77 percent in the same time frame. Instead, the governor sent a task force throughout the state seeking solutions.

Maryland's declaration came after 2,600 deaths.

“It took two years and 2,600 deaths for Governor Larry Hogan to finally follow through on what he promised to do on day one,” said Maryland Democratic Party spokesperson Bryan Lesswing in a statement. “While Governor Larry Hogan’s announcement today is a good start after two years of delay, Marylanders deserve to know how Hogan plans to defend another tool in fighting the heroin and combat epidemic — the Affordable Care Act — which has been a centerpiece in combating the crisis.”

West Virginia has not yet made such a declaration. Yet, numerous sources report that  818 people  died of drug overdoses in 2016 — four times the number that occurred in 2001 and a nearly 13 percent increase over the 725 who died of overdoses in 2015.

 

 

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