Curbing Heroin Addiction Among Bills Presented by Senate Leadership

By Anjali Shastry

ANNAPOLIS—Curbing heroin addiction, and civil penalties for drunken driving were atop a legislative agenda released by the Maryland Senate leadership Tuesday morning.

Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr., D-Calvert, Charles and Prince George’s, touted eight bills he said have bipartisan support, most of which focused on long-term approaches to fix problems the state faces.

Both parties can agree on the problems these bills address, but finding appropriate bipartisan solutions will not be as easy, said state Senate Majority Leader Catherine Pugh, D-Baltimore.

One of those problems is heroin.

“Maryland and the nation are facing a heroin epidemic, and it’s not just in urban environments,” said Pugh.

Two bills on the legislative agenda address the topic: One would establish a committee to investigate the problem and possible solutions, and one would require health care coverage for products that help prevent addiction.

State Senator Adelaide C. Eckardt, R-Caroline, Dorchester, Talbot and Wicomico, said it was necessary to target the “system delivery” of giving patients medications that could lead to painkiller and opiate addiction.

“When you go in and have a knee replacement or you’ve got a torn rotator cuff, usually the physicians prescribe an opiate, something for pain management,” Eckardt said. “That’s part of the whole mix, in how we look at setting people up for addiction when we don’t need to do that.”

The committee is likely to look into changing the composition of painkillers to make them less addictive, reducing the availability of addictive drugs, and addressing the care and recovery of addicts as a “whole person,” legislators said Tuesday.

Some of the legislation on Miller’s agenda has been cross-filed by members of the House of Delegates.

House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, said that his chamber was working on the issue of drug addiction.

“We will have a work group in the House dealing with heroin, basically addiction and intervention and how to serve those who have drug addiction problems,” Busch said. “Heroin is the drug of choice right now, but it could be another drug six months from now.”

A bill sponsored by state Senator Jamin “Jamie” Raskin, D-Montgomery, would allow victims of drunken driving accidents to file civil suits against the driver for punitive damages. As part of the legislation, insurance companies won’t be required to cover the punitive damages. Under the bill:

--A drunken driver who injures or kills someone and has a blood alcohol content of 0.15 percent can be taken to civil court by the victims for punitive damages.

--If a drunken driver has a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent and: a suspended or revoked license; or a prior drunk-driving arrest resulting in conviction, plea or probation within the last five years, he or she could also be taken to civil court by their victims.

“We hear every year victims that have to come in and talk about their loved ones who have been seriously injured or killed by a drunk driver,” state Senator Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, said. “And this is yet another tool in the toolbox to fight drunk driving.”

Other bills Miller included on the legislative agenda Tuesday are:

--Making the African American Heritage Preservation Program a permanent one and allocating $1 million to preserve sites and places of importance to the African-American community in Maryland. It was sponsored by state Senator Nathaniel McFadden, D-Baltimore.

--Researching how to increase public safety by reducing recidivism, making sure that people convicted of crimes and who have been imprisoned do not continue to commit crimes once released from prison. The bill was sponsored by Miller.

--Preventing interns from being sexually harassed, sponsored by state Senator Nancy J. King, D-Montgomery.

--Helping young people find environmental jobs through the Chesapeake Conservation Corps, sponsored by state Senator John Astle, D-Anne Arundel.

--Allowing the state’s Parole Commission to evaluate for release criminals 65 and older who are no longer deemed a threat to society and may have serious health issues. This was sponsored by Raskin.

--Making the Maryland Commission on Climate Change official advisers to the governor and General Assembly by establishing them in the Department of the Environment, sponsored by state Senator Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s.

Capital News Service correspondent Deidre McPhillips contributed to this report.

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