The “overdose epidemic” isn’t new to Maryland. The overdose fatality rate in Maryland has consistently been above the national average since 1999, ranging from roughly 1.5 to 3 times to average rate. The number of Marylanders who died from overdose increased in 2017 for the 7th year in a row, reaching an all time high of 2,282 – an average of 6 deaths per day. This rate increased again, by 12%, over the first half of 2018.
A term often used to describe this spike in recent years is “opioid epidemic,” but let’s call it what it really is – accidental fentanyl poisoning. The drug supply is tainted, a result of prohibition, and many people lack access to life saving tools like naloxone, drug checking services, and medications to reduce the chance of overdose.
The War on Drugs has wasted money and resources. It’s also ruined lives and caused harm to our communities by over-incarcerating people who use drugs without reducing overdose mortality. BHRC supports efforts to decriminalize the possession, use, and distribution of controlled substances, and opposes efforts to further criminalize people involved in the drug trade, including increases in mandatory minimum sentences and the use of search and seizure to harass people who experience overdose. BHRC advocates directing resources toward evidence-based and community-run interventions proven to reduce harm and promote healing.
Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition has outlined the following policy priorities for 2019 with the goals to reduce overdose, reduce barriers to safety tools and evidence-based treatment options, and increase choice for people who use drugs to decide what wellness looks like for themselves.
Encourage establishment of Overdose Prevention Sites
Overdose Prevention Sites are legally sanctioned facilities designed to reduce the health issues and community impact often associated with public drug consumption by allowing for on-site use of drugs and immediate access to life saving interventions. BHRC is leading efforts to authorize the establishment of such programs in Maryland. In addition, BHRC provides oversight for BRIDGES, a coalition of organizations and community members that advocate for overdose prevention sites in Baltimore City.
Promote low-barrier access to evidence-based treatment modalities
Use of methadone and buprenorphine significantly reduce risk of opioid-related mortality and are considered the gold standard for treatment of opioid use disorder, yet these medications are underutilized. BHRC supports efforts to reduce barriers to accessing all forms of FDA approved medications and to encourage more providers to prescribe them.
Amend paraphernalia statutes and decriminalize safety
Current Maryland law regarding drug paraphernalia criminalizes people who use drugs for possessing life-saving and disease-preventing tools. There are exceptions to syringe criminalization only for participants of a syringe service program, but lack of clarity regarding the identify of program participants still allows for law enforcement harassment. BHRC is leading efforts to examine Maryland paraphernalia laws in order to suggest changes including full decriminalization of hypodermic needles and syringes.
BHRC works to defeat all proposals that perpetuate stigma against people who use drugs including restrictions to quality treatment programs and attempts to reduce autonomy or commit people into treatment against their will.
So, what can YOU do?
We need YOU to tell legislators to support legislation to decriminalize safety — write letters, send emails, and make phone calls (identify your representatives here)
We need YOU to say “YES in my backyard” by demanding the establishment or expansion of harm reduction programs in your community — syringe services, medication assisted treatment, overdose prevention sites, etc…
We need YOU to remind those in power that people should not be stigmatized and criminalized for using drugs, selling sex, being homeless, or just generally living their lives.
JOIN US for the 2nd annual Harm Reduction Advocacy Day!
- Advocacy 101 training
- Meet other advocates from around the state
- Talk with your elected representatives
- Transportation available & meals provided
And it’s free! Register here!
Another great way to stay involved is to join the Maryland Harm Reduction listserve! We share policy updates and resources, and it’s a platform to talk with people doing harm reduction work around the state.
Wondering how else you can get involved? Email me! I will happily connect you with others who are advocating for life saving interventions in your area.
Tricia Christensen, Legislative Advocacy Coordinator