Selected Speeches

Confronting the Opioid Epidemic

April 18, 2018
Homestead Gardens, Davidsonville

Good evening, everyone. And thank you so much for coming out tonight. We tried this once before and the weather didn’t cooperate, so I’m grateful for this chance at a do-over.

I want to thank Brian Riddle and everyone here at Homestead Gardens for their tremendous hospitality. I think we might have some guests with us from the County Executive’s Office, the Anne Arundel County Health Department, and Anne Arundel Medical Center. Thank you for joining us.

It’s such a pleasure to be here with you, but I know too well that the topic we’ve come to discuss is difficult. Opioid addiction is painful. It robs us all of too many people we love. And it leaves such wreckage in its wake. Because of these sensitivities, I just want to mention up-front that we’re taping this event.

It’s been a year since Gov. Hogan declared a state of emergency in Maryland for our opioid crisis—and it is a crisis. In the first three quarters of last year, Maryland had 1,501 opioid-related overdose deaths. That’s more than four people a day. That death toll is nearly double what we experienced just two years earlier.

And any respite we had from the leveling off of heroin and prescription opioid deaths was wiped out by synthetic drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil, accounting for nearly 80 percent of Maryland’s fatal opioid overdoses.

As painful as these statistics are—because every one of them represents a life lost—I think we might all agree that addiction itself, the toll it takes not only on the person struggling but on his or her loved ones, is often like a death itself. It’s a death of normalcy, of hope, of peace. It’s a life lived in constant fear.

My life has been touched by this crisis. I think some of our panelists tonight might say the same. And if you’re comfortable, I’d like a show of hands if you know someone who has struggled with addiction or someone who’s struggling still.

Thank you. I think this is important. I think we need to see each other in order to see the crisis for what it is: how pervasive, how indiscriminant. Because we’re not going to get anywhere if we don’t erase the stigma associated with addiction.

You’ll hear Dr. Coop say he doesn’t even use the word “addiction.” He refers only to its mechanisms: reinforcement and dependence. And so as part of a comprehensive research program, we must look at the genetic basis for addiction. We must explore why only a small percentage of those who take painkillers get hooked on them—and treat addiction like the disease it is.

We must look at pharmacological solutions, which we’ll be discussing today. We must look at treatment and support through recovery. We must look at mental and behavioral health resources. We must look at prescriber rates and how we better educate providers. I know Brian’s Leadership Anne Arundel class is focusing on this very issue. We must look at local, state, and national policy.

We have to put everything on the table. And I think we’re ready to do that. Maryland has made some headway already: opening access to Naloxone, testing a Medicaid waiver for residential treatment programs, and launching some very effective awareness campaigns.

Anne Arundel County is doing a lot of smart work, as well. The Safe Stations program goes a long way toward destigmatizing addiction and providing residents a low-risk way to get help. The county’s peer-based recovery program uses good evidence on addiction and recovery behavior.

I think this epidemic has brought us together around one core truth—and that’s that our solutions have to be multifaceted, that education alone, or treatment alone, or prevention alone, isn’t enough.

And that’s why we’re here: UMB has seven schools absolutely committed to working together on a comprehensive program to address opioid addiction. We all have a piece of this: pharmacy, medicine, social work, law, dentistry, nursing, biomedical sciences. And this is only the first panel of a number we plan to do around the state that will involve all of our schools. So I think it’s time we get into it.

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