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Opioid epidemic target of new state legislation

Rachel Baye

Democrats in the General Assembly announced Friday a package of bills aimed at curbing Maryland’s opioid addiction crisis.

The legislation focuses on expanding access to treatment and educating students about the hazards of the drugs beginning in the third grade. It increases funding for health providers, expands substance-abuse treatment programs in prisons and establishes crisis treatment centers across the state.

House Speaker Michael Busch said skyrocketing deaths from heroin laced with Fentanyl highlight why the legislation is necessary.

There were roughly 1,800 opioid-related deaths in Maryland in the first nine months of 2016, roughly twice as many as there were during the same period in 2015, according to the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

“This is something that has to be attacked at all levels,” Busch said. “It’s one of the great crises in our state and in the United States of America, quite candidly.”

Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration has also introduced bills that limit the amount of opioids doctors can prescribe and increase criminal penalties for distributing the drugs. Hogan included $10 million to target the epidemic in a supplemental budget released Friday.

Rachel Baye is a senior reporter and editor in WYPR's newsroom.