Maryland Legislator to Introduce Groundbreaking Harm Reduction Drug Policy Bills to Reduce: Addiction, Deadly Overdose, Spread of Infectious Disease, and Incarceration Rates for Drug-Related Offenses

Press Release February 1, 2016
Media Contact

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CONTACT: &nbsp;</h2>
<p>Tony Newman, 646-335-5384</p>
<p>Delegate Dan Morhaim, 410-841-3054&nbsp;</p>

As deaths from drug overdoses increase nationwide, Maryland Delegate Dan Morhaim, M.D. – also a practicing physician who has been treating patients in emergency and internal medicine for more than 30 years – will introduce four bills to transform drug policy in the state.  This groundbreaking legislative package aims to reduce the harms associated with substance abuse disorders, including rates of addiction, deadly overdose, the spread of infectious disease, crime, costs to the general public, and incarceration rates.  (See detailed descriptions of all 4 bills below.) 

More Americans now die annually from overdose than gunshot wounds or car crashes. Nearly 47,000 Americans died from a drug overdose in 2014.In Maryland, the Governor’s office has defined the problem as an “epidemic…destroying lives”. There has been a 60% rise in fatal drug and alcohol-related overdoses, and heroin deaths have increased by 186%, from 2010 to 2015 in the state.

WHAT:            Press Conference with Delegate Morhaim, Law Enforcement Officials, Health Experts and More

WHEN:            Friday, February 5, 2016, 12:00 p.m           

WHERE:         House Office Building, Room 180, 6 Bladen Street, Annapolis, MD, 21401  (Please arrive by 11:30 a.m. to allow   plenty of time for parking, walking to the House of Delegates, and getting through security.  Click here for more information on parking.)


Delegate Dan Morhaim has been a member of the Maryland House of Delegates since 1994, where he serves as Deputy Majority Leader. He is a board-certified physician with over 30 years front-line clinical experience treating patients in emergency and internal medicine, and he is on the faculty at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and at the University of Maryland Medical School. He is the author of numerous articles, both medical and non-medical.

Senator Shirley Nathan-Pulliam was first elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1994 before being elected to the Maryland Senate in 2014.  She is a Registered Nurse with years of experience as a quality assurance coordinator, head nurse, and team leader at hospitals in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

Maj. Neill Franklin (Ret.) is the Executive Director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an international nonprofit organization of law enforcement professionals and civilian supporters who want to end the War on Drugs. Major Franklin is a retired 33-year veteran of both the Maryland State Police and Baltimore Police forces. 

Beth McGinty is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management and Co-Deputy Director for the Center for Mental Health and Addiction Policy Research at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Professor McGinty’s research focuses on social policies that affect mental health and substance use. 

Christopher Welsh is a physician at the University of Maryland, specializing in addiction treatment and behavioral health. He is the Medical Director of the UMMC Substance Abuse Consultation Service, which is responsible for substance abuse assessment and intervention throughout the University of Maryland Medical Center.

“This crisis has been going for decades, but the marked rise in overdose deaths and the murder rate is finally forcing us to take definitive action. Maryland has the opportunity to serve as a model for the country in treating drug use for what it is—a public health issue,” says Delegate Morhaim.  “This legislation reflects the scientific, evidence-based research proving how to best help drug users, their families, and the community at large.”

"From moms to Presidential candidates, everyone is searching for solutions to the growing rates of drug addiction and overdose,” said Lindsay LaSalle, Staff Attorney for Drug Policy Alliance.  “Fortunately there are programs that are well-established and have been proven to work around the world.  Maryland now has the opportunity to be the first state to bring these common sense policies to the United States.” 

Below is an overview of the four drug policy bills that will be introduced:

Addiction Treatment at need and on Demand in ERs and Hospitals –In Maryland, drug related deaths are on the rise. Associated harms, including drug-related crime and violence, the spread of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C, and the impact on health care insurance premiums and taxpayers are concerns for the state. Conservative estimates show that for every $1 spent on treatment approximately $12 is saved in criminal justice and health care costs.  For a wide variety of reasons, hospitals are an excellent location to initiate treatment. This bill requires acute care hospitals to have an addiction treatment counselor available or on-call 24/7 to patients in emergency rooms and in-hospital and to have defined arrangements for transfer to appropriate detoxification and rehabilitation care services. The bill also calls for the State’s hospital regulatory agency (HSCRC) to develop cost-effective strategies to support hospital capital and operating expenses.

Safe Consumption Programs – This bill permits the establishment of safe consumption programs which allow individuals to consume controlled substances in a safe space, provide sterile equipment, and connect patients to treatment, medical care, and other social services. Similar facilities now operate in Europe, Australia, and Canada with excellent results, including reducing the spread of infectious diseases, and because medical staff is immediately available, overdose deaths have been eliminated.  This bill allows local health departments to singularly establish such programs.  Community-based organizations may also establish such programs after obtaining approval from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene when specific criteria are met. 

Poly-Morphone-Assisted Treatment – This bill tasks the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene with creating an advisory committee to review research proposals and support the establishment of a 4-year poly-morphone-assisted treatment pilot project in Maryland.  Poly-morphone-assisted treatment refers to the administering or dispensing of pharmaceutical–grade heroin, hydromorphone, or other opioids to a small and previously consistently unresponsive group of chronic heroin users under medical supervision in a specialized clinic.  This group of users is directly responsible for a significant portion of street crime and uncompensated health care costs that are eventually born by taxpayers. Bringing them into treatment immediately reduces their anti-social behavior and provides an opportunity for further care. Programs in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark, as well as clinical trials in Canada and elsewhere, have achieved unanimously positive results.

(For both the Safe Consumption and Poly-Morphone Programs, the University of Maryland Department of Psychiatry has stated its support and said “If the legislation is passed, the Department would seriously consider establishing pilot programs to evaluate these interventions.”)

Decriminalization of Small Amounts of Drugs for Personal Use– Rather than reducing drug use, criminalizing substance abusers amplifies the risk of fatal overdoses and diseases, increases stigma, and drives people away from needed treatment and harm reduction services.  This bill would keep some drug users – those possessing minimal amounts – out of the criminal justice system, thereby saving critical resources and avoiding the costs of saddling more Maryland citizens with criminal records and their adverse consequences. In 2001 Portugal became the first nation to eliminate criminal penalties for low-level possession and use of all illicit drugs. The Cato Institute studied the results of Portugal’s policy and stated “none of nightmare scenarios…from rampant increases in drug usage among the young to the transformation of Lisbon into a haven for drug tourists has occurred.” Furthermore, “decriminalization has had no adverse effect on drug usage rates”, and the level of drug trafficking has also declined. And the incidence of other drug-related problems, including sexually transmitted diseases and deaths from drug overdoses, has “decreased dramatically”.

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A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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