Nearly 1,100 people in Maryland died from an opiate overdose in 2015, and the number may have risen last year to 2,000, reports the Baltimore Sun. Opioid overdoses now rank with cancer, strokes and heart attacks among the top killers in Maryland. State health officials say their goal for the next two years is to slow the rate at which the problem is worsening. Despite facing a $544 million state budget shortfall, Gov. Larry Hogan is expected to announce funding today to fight the heroin epidemic. The state legislature launched a work group to study 25 bills that would address opioid and substance abuse. “Unfortunately, the resources aren’t there,” said Kerri Sprague, the mother of an overdose victim, echoing a conclusion reached by many officials and medical professionals. “The people outside of these families don’t like that resources would go to that — they think, ‘Why would we put money towards junkies?'”
There is little consensus on how to use the state’s limited resources as officials scramble for fresh ideas. Doctors and advocates for addicts say the most pressing need is boosting the number of people able to get into treatment. Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen called the overdose death figures “horrific” and said they won’t come down until more people are helped. “We know that treatment works, that recovering is possible,” she said. “We desperately need funding for treatment.” There’s a yawning gap to fill. A study conducted for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene found Maryland can provide methadone or buprenorphine — drugs widely considered critical to treating heroin addiction — to 30,000 patients. That’s half of what is needed, the study concluded.