Top leaders from Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia gathered Tuesday to exchange ideas and discuss how to work across local borders to fight opioid and heroin addiction, which is killing more people each year despite efforts to stop fatal overdoses.
About 500 people attended the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Regional Opioid and Substance Abuse Summit to focus on prevention, public safety response, treatment and efforts to end the stigma of drug addiction that keeps people from seeking help.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, who signed a compact in October to commit to working together to address the growing problem, each talked about what their jurisdictions have been doing to try to stem the disturbingly stubborn problem.
"Heroin and opioid abuse has exploded nationwide over the past year, and deaths in our state have doubled in spite of all the efforts by so many people," said Hogan, who has focused on the problem since he entered office in 2015. "Six people die each and every day in Maryland as a result of opioid overdoses. In fact, opioid-related deaths exceeded both firearm and motor vehicle fatalities combined."
McAullife, a Democrat, said his state lost about 1,100 people to opioid and heroin last year, and it is on track to
lose another 1,400 this year. McAullife said the problem in Virginia can be seen geographically, with prescription drug abuse in the western part of the state and more of heroin and fentanyl in northern Virginia and Richmond down to Hampton Roads. McAuliffe said Maryland, Virginia and the District need to link their prescription drug monitoring, so the three jurisdictions can better monitor for potential abuse.
"We need to know when folks are doctor shopping," McAullife said. "That is how we're going to hit this problem. We need to have knowledge, and then we need to hold doctors accountable."
Bowser, a Democrat, said the District is focused on stopping heroin laced with fentanyl from entering the nation's capital. She also said the city is concentrating on how to best keep people who overdose alive by maximizing the availability to first responders of naloxone, the overdose antidote better known as Narcan.
"We also have to get over the idea that we're going to stop every drug user from using drugs," Bowser said. "Instead, we have to focus on how we can keep them alive, and that means training the people around them, our first responders, about how to keep them alive."
Hogan, who has made the fight against opioid and heroin use a priority since learning about the severity of the problem while campaigning throughout the state in 2014, said the state will press ahead with education, prevention, interdiction and recovery efforts. In March, he announced a state of emergency and $50 million in new funding to address the crisis in Maryland.
"This is really about an all-hands-on-deck approach, not just in Maryland, but across our region and all across the nation so that together we can save thousands of lives," Hogan said.