ANNAPOLIS — A delegate from Frederick County is looking to curb the heroin epidemic with a proposal encouraging the prescription of painkillers that are more difficult to abuse.
Prescription drugs often act as a gateway to heroin abuse, so one way to address the problem is by dealing with the medication, said Delegate Karen Lewis Young.
“Our approach to heroin needs to be multifaceted. We need to have a number of solutions: education, prevention, cure. So this is one of many solutions,” said Lewis Young, D-District 3A.
Her proposal would require insurance carriers to provide coverage for painkillers that are not as easy to abuse. It would also forbid insurance companies from making the abuse-deterrent medication more costly to patients than the alternatives. The abuse-deterrent drugs are chemically designed to prevent chewing, crushing, curating, grating or grinding them, according to Lewis Young. Some are intended to create an unpleasant effect if people try to manipulate them.
In three recent studies of people who inject heroin, nearly half of the young people surveyed indicated that they used prescription medication before they switched to the street drug, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
People often turn to heroin because it is cheaper than prescription painkillers, Lewis Young said.
Lewis Young’s bill appeared Tuesday in a package of legislative priorities announced by Senate leaders. Sen. Catherine Pugh, D-Baltimore city, has sponsored the same proposal in her side of the Legislature.
“While politicians in Washington, D.C., are unable to find common ground on even the simplest of issues, we are moving together on issues that are important to all Marylanders,” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said in a news release.
Another proposal included in the package would create an Opioid Use Disorder Consortium to develop strategies to combat the heroin epidemic.
The problem of opioid abuse has swept across the state, and Frederick County has been no exception. In 2013, the county saw 21 heroin-related deaths, the highest annual total since 2007, according to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The following year, there had been 22 heroin-related deaths in the county by the third week of October.
“I know it’s a problem throughout the country, throughout the state, but I know it’s a problem in my jurisdiction. So I was determined to get a good solution to help minimize the problem,” Lewis Young said.
The delegate has also spoke to a local man, Bob Kozloski, whose son died in 2012 of a prescription drug overdose. Kozloski has been working ever since to raise awareness and advocate for policies that will combat opioid overprescription and addiction.
While Lewis Young’s bill won’t win the battle on drug addiction, it will help, said Kozloski, of Frederick.
“I do think it’s a step forward in the right direct direction,” he said. “I don’t expect an overnight change, but I think the awareness of the Legislature is improving.”