One More State Declares A Public Health Emergency Over Opioids

Maryland's governor said his state needs 'all hands on deck' to handle a mounting death toll

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Mar 02, 2017 at 12:13 PM ET

The opioid crisis has continued unabated throughout the last few years, with more than 50,000 Americans dying from overdose in 2015, the highest annual toll to date. In lieu of that, state governments are scrambling to respond, and some are even pulling the fire alarm and going into full-on disaster mode.

On Wednesday, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) announced that his administration, via executive order, has declared a state of emergency over the crisis, enabling the government to enact certain discretionary steps. The order will activate the state’s emergency management authority and allow state and local officials to more rapidly and efficiently coordinate with one another, Hogan said. And the declaration will be followed by a pledged $50 million in new state funding over the next five years to address the problem. The governor’s senior emergency management advisor Clay Stamp will be tapped to lead these efforts.

“We need to treat this crisis the exact same way we would treat any other state emergency,” said Hogan in a 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.”

Maryland is only the latest state to take and consider this drastic approach. In 2014, Massachusetts declared a public health emergency over opioids, which led to all emergency personnel being equipped with naloxone, 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.

In Maryland, by the third quarter of 2016, it’s estimated that 918 deaths were attributable to heroin; 738 deaths to fentanyl, a powerful, highly addictive opioid typically only used in surgery; and 317 to prescription opioids (some deaths may have involved a combination of drugs). All of these deaths represent a jump from the previous year’s tally at that point.

For some, Hogan’s action is welcomed but much too late in its arrival.

“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.”