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March 21, 2023

Letter: David Trone on need for medication-assisted treatment for opioids at jails

Credit: Baltimore Banner

Like millions of Americans, the opioid epidemic hits home for me. I lost my nephew, Ian, to a fentanyl overdose in 2016 after working with him for more than five years on his treatment — from finding safe recovery housing to overcoming his past criminal record of possession and petty theft. I’ve seen firsthand how hard it is for folks to battle opioid use disorder, and oftentimes, therapy on its own is not enough to deal with the physical and emotional effects of withdrawal. That’s why I support methods such as medication-assisted treatment (MAT), which is proven to save lives.

MAT is often described as a “whole patient” approach to treating substance use disorder, using both medication and behavioral counseling to provide care. It’s extremely effective, which is why I was proud when Maryland became the first in the nation to require all state jails to offer the treatment in 2019. It was an important step in the right direction, and I’m disheartened to hear that four years later, fewer than half of Maryland jails are compliant with this opioid treatment law.

As the co-founder and co-chair of the Bipartisan Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Task Force in Congress, I’m always looking for better approaches to combat this epidemic by following the facts. Studies consistently show that using medications such as buprenorphine reduces the mortality rate among people with substance use disorder by more than half, and that patients treated with medication are more likely to remain in therapy and rebuild their lives. An estimated 58% of people incarcerated in state prisons — who are disproportionately people of color — suffer from substance use disorder, and opioid overdose deaths across Maryland now average about seven a day.

Gov. Hogan declares Friday a state holiday; Maryland state offices will close
Gov. Hogan declares Friday a state holiday; Maryland state offices will close

To those who are skeptical about the effectiveness of MAT: I urge you to reconsider and look at these studies more closely to not only help save lives but also help the people in your care get on the right path and stay out of the criminal justice system in the long run.

These folks desperately need effective and accessible treatment that starts before they leave the state’s care. There’s no time to waste when lives are on the line. Today, I’m calling on our state and local partners to assess why this rollout has taken so long and take concrete steps to address it. It’s on all of us to work together and help end this epidemic.