Last year, 157 people in Maryland died from overdoses of Oxycodone, a prescription narcotic.
Heather Young, a nurse practitioner at Bon Secours’ substance abuse treatment programs, said many of her patients began their addiction to opioid painkillers with a prescription from a doctor.
“But many will tell you, once I lost my job and my insurance coverage, I had to get my high any way I could get it,” she said.
By the time patients walk through her door, many are getting their drugs illegally.
With one of a series of measures that takes effect July 1, state policy makers are trying to prevent people from getting hooked on prescriptions to begin with.
Beginning on Saturday, all pharmacists and prescribers of opioids must register with the state Prescription Drug Monitoring Program and gain access to the state database, known as CRISP, or “Chesapeake Regional Information System for our Patients.” The database allows hospital systems and other medical providers to track opioid prescriptions.
Young said the system has already proved helpful in Bon Secours’ emergency room.
“We have hospital hoppers, the ER hoppers, that go from ER to ER to ER for nothing but opiates,” she said.
It will be another year before doctors, nurses, dentists and pharmacists will be required to use the database, though many have already opted in.
The “Start Talking Maryland Act,” also goes into effect on July 1. It’s designed to warn young people about addiction. It requires schools statewide to teach students about the dangers of drug addiction, and specifically about opioids.
Students will get the new material once between the third and fifth grades, once between the sixth and eighth grades, and once between ninth and 12th grades, as well as when they enter a higher education institution in the state.
“The idea is to get to people sooner, and get to them over and over again,” said state Del. Eric Bromwell, the law’s sponsor and a Democrat who represents part of eastern Baltimore County. “Just like any epidemic that any society faces, education is the key.”
Sixty-four-year-old Johnnie Davis said he wishes someone warned him before he began selling and using Heroin in the 1970s. He’s been in a Methadone addiction treatment program for nearly two decades.
“You can get the young kids in, and regardless of whether they get high or not, you’ve got to keep pounding it in their head,” he said.
He compared the efforts to successful anti-smoking efforts.
“Now if that was on drugs, and it can get it in their heads about the drugs like they do on the smoke, it would be really good,” he said.
A third change taking effect July 1 aims to expand access to treatment for those who do become addicted.
One in three people receiving treatment for addiction in Maryland are on Medicaid, but federal law prohibits Medicaid from paying for residential treatment programs — such as those run by Sheppard Pratt and Gaudenzia — that aren’t in hospitals.
This goes back to an outdated idea about mental health services, said Maryland Medicaid Director Shannon McMahon.
“Federal Medicaid law back in 1965 really sought to make sure that states weren’t spending those federal Medicaid dollars to institutionalize people,” she said.
But Maryland was recently granted a waiver that will allow state Medicaid to cover these residential programs beginning July 1.
“Right now when people need those services, we’re paying with just state general fund dollars,” McMahon said. “Having access to these federal dollars is going to open up access to a larger group of individuals who are eligible for Medicaid.”
She said the federal Medicaid program will reimburse the state between 60 and 90 percent of state tax dollars used for these programs.
The state estimated that between 4,000 and 6,000 people will be able to access these services each year following the change.
Maryland crisis hotline number: 1-800-422-0009.