First in the Fight: Counties Continue Battle Against the Opioid Epidemic

Counties led the fight to protect “first responders” administering emergency anti-overdose medications, and support this year’s proposed refinements that continue to fill in gaps.

The number of opioid overdoses has steadily skyrocketed in all corners of the state over the past five years, and State and local officials have sought any and all solutions to the myriad of problems that the opioid epidemic presents. With the implementation of the Overdose Response Program and expansion of access to naloxone, local officials have fully committed to reducing the number of overdoses and subsequent deaths.

Part of that commitment is to emergency medical service personnel and first responders who are on the frontlines of the battle against opioid overdoses. The care that they provide saves lives and is integral to reducing deaths and giving overdose victims a chance to seek treatment and overcome addiction.

MACo has strongly supported measures to provide immunity protections to those responding to individuals believed to be suffering from an opioid overdose. As part of MACo’s legislative initiatives in 2015, counties championed legislation that established initial protections for law enforcement and EMS personnel that have training and authorization to administer naloxone.

From MACo Testimony on House Bill 368 in 2015:

Law enforcement or emergency medical services are often the first to arrive on the scene of a drug overdose. Therefore, strides have been made to train and equip law enforcement and first responders with naloxone, a life-saving medication that reverses an opioid overdose by restoring the breathing of a person who has overdosed on heroin or prescription opioid such as oxycodone or morphine. HB 368 incorporates immunity protections for law enforcement and first responders trained and authorized to administer the medicine to an individual experiencing or believed to be experiencing a drug overdose.

There is, properly, a bipartisan statewide and nationwide effort to combat the scourge of heroin and reduce overdose deaths. As one part of this effort, appropriate civil immunity protections should be in place for law enforcement and first responders who are taking the initiative to be trained and certified to carry and administer life-saving treatment for an overdose.”

Since then, MACo has consistently supported common sense measures that ensure first responders are protected and are free to act without hesitation when using their best judgment to assess an overdose situation.

Those on the frontlines have encountered increasingly difficult and powerful opioid analogs that are in some cases causing an immediate overdose. Many overdoses caused by potent opioids, such as fentanyl, often require multiple doses of naloxone to reverse the effects and revive an individual. MACo supports bipartisan legislation this year sponsored by Delegate William Folden and Senator Kathy Klausmeier, House Bill 924 and Senate Bill 1222, to extend protections for first responders when giving multiple doses of naloxone is deemed necessary.

The fight against opioid overdoses is ever-changing, and relentlessly protecting those that save lives as this public health crisis evolves is essential.

For more on opioid-related legislation this year, follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2018 legislative session here.

Useful Links and Resources:

Overdose Prevention in Maryland

2018 House Bill 924 and Senate Bill 1222

2018 House Bill 1764