Skyrocketing Heroin Deaths Spark Crack Down On Doctors Who Dole Out Painkillers

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Gov. Larry Hogan is launching new actions to fight the opioid epidemic in Maryland and is pushing lawmakers to limit the prescribing of opioid painkillers.

Officials announced a fresh $4 billion in funding for treatment programs for heroin and opioid addiction during a press conference Tuesday at the Anne Arundel Medical Center. An anti-heroin command center will also be created through an executive order. Hogan, a Republican, previously increased funding for treatment beds as part of his efforts to combat opioid-related deaths, which reached record highs in 2016. The efforts are part of the 2017 Heroin and Opioid Prevention, Treatment, and Enforcement Initiative, a program aimed at tackling drug addiction in the state, reports WJLA.

Hogan is also expected to press the legislature for a bill placing limits on the number of opioid prescriptions a doctor can write. Many medical professionals argue against this kind of crack down, but studies show a direct link between dependence on legally prescribed painkillers and heroin abuse. (RELATED: How One Pain Pill Sparked A Three-Fold Increase In Heroin Deaths)

“These are all over the map – from prevention and treatment to law enforcement and interdiction,” Hogan said Tuesday, according to WJLA. “We have to attack from every direction, and education is a major part of it as well.”

Heroin-related deaths are rising at an alarming rate in Maryland, which is suffering the fifth highest rate of death from drug overdoses in the country. Heroin-related deaths tripled from 247 in 2011 to 748 in 2015.

“I lost a cousin…first cousin … to this terrible disease with a heroin overdose, myself,” Hogan said at the press conference. “It’s under the surface of every community and we decided we’re gonna shine a spotlight on this and try to find as many possible solutions as we could.”

Deaths from fentanyl-laced heroin in the first half of 2016 doubled when compared to the same period in 2015 in the state. Between January and September of 2016, the latest data available, Maryland suffered 1,468 deaths related to drug overdoses.

Heroin deaths contributed to the first drop in U.S. life expectancy since 1993 and eclipsed deaths from motor vehicle accidents in 2015. The substance accounts for roughly 63 percent of drug fatalities, which claimed 52,404 lives in the U.S. in 2015.

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