Gov. Larry Hogan unveiled Tuesday what he called a "holistic" strategy to deal with Maryland's growing heroin problem, but stopped short of declaring the state of emergency he vowed last year to put in place.
After weeks of buildup, Hogan announced a four-pronged approach to one of the signature issues of his campaign. It involves no dramatic breaks from the policies followed by former Gov. Martin O'Malley. Hogan put much of the substantive policy development in the hands of a task force that will report to him by Dec. 1. The program includes a $500,000 federal grant, but no new state money for treatment. At a State House news conference, Hogan seemed to choke up several times as he described how pervasive he found the problem as he traveled around the state last year. Md. Governor-elect vows to increase fight against heroin Md. Governor-elect, Larry Hogan, vows to increase fight against heroin. "This used to be considered an urban problem, but it's not anymore," he said. All over the state, he said, local officials told him heroin had become their No. 1 problem. The governor said he felt a personal connection because a cousin died of an overdose a couple of years ago. "I know the kind of devastation it can cause for families and communities, but still I was shocked by how widespread this problem had become," he said. Hogan said heroin was both a law enforcement problem and a health issue. "This is a disease, and we will not be able to just arrest our way out of that crisis," he said. Some were unimpressed by the governor's plan. "This is the biggest joke I've ever heard in my life," said Mike Gimbel, a former drug user who served as director of Baltimore County's substance abuse office. "We need long-term, residential drug-free treatment in the state of Maryland. We've never had it. There are people out there who need it immediately." Del. Kirill Reznik, a Montgomery County Democrat, said the task force duplicates the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Council he has served on since it was created by O'Malley in 2007. Reznik said the council has already identified what the state needs — more treatment beds and more preventive education programs starting as early as elementary school. "I'm not seeing anything that begins to really address this problem," he said. "The idea of another task force, I'm a little skeptical of it." Others applauded Hogan's effort. Del. Brett Wilson, a Hagerstown Republican who was named to the task force, called the plan "exactly what we need." "I like this approach about actually learning about a problem before we address it," he said. Overdose patients end up repeatedly in hospital Overdose patients end up repeatedly in hospital Del. Peter A. Hammen, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the House health committee, also welcomed the program . "I'm pleased the governor is focusing on the issue because it's a significant problem throughout the state." Heroin overdoses have shot up 95 percent since 2010 as the drug's price has fallen and prescription painkillers have become more difficult to obtain. In 2013, Hogan said, Maryland had 464 overdose deaths, exceeding the state's 387 homicides. He said preliminary numbers show deaths by overdose continued to rise last year.