Pharmacies Prepare for Naloxone Standing Order

On June 1st a law will go into effect easing access to naloxone, a drug that reverses opioid overdoses, at local pharmacies through a statewide standing order.

The Baltimore Business Journal reports on how the Baltimore City Health Department and pharmacies across the city are working to prepare for the change:

The move is another step in the effort to reduce opioid deaths in the state and city. Gov. Larry Hogan has declared Maryland’s opioid epidemic a state of emergency, after fatal heroin overdoses nearly doubled between January and September 2016 compared to the previous year, and fentanyl deaths quadrupled. In total, deaths from these two opioid drugs spiked to 1,656. In March, Hogan signed an executive order for $50 million in new funding to go toward addressing the crisis.

The new order will allow Baltimore pharmacies to freely distribute naloxone, a drug previously reserved only for those with a doctor’s prescription or a certification from the Maryland Overdose Response Program. The response program — the result of another standing order that was passed in 2015 — offers hands-on training and certification in recognizing and responding to opioid overdose with the drug. Once someone completed the training, they were free to purchase the overdose drug. But now, anyone and everyone will be able to purchase it.

City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen said the problem with the training program is that it can be a “cumbersome” process to become certified. Other states have already eliminated such requirements, Wen said, and with Maryland’s current state of emergency, it makes sense to make the life-saving drug as accessible as possible.

“We have to eliminate every barrier that exists to saving lives. And in this case, it was mostly an administrative barrier anyway,” she said. “Now that we have eliminated that training requirement, it means naloxone can be given nearly over-the-counter.”

For more information read the full article in The Baltimore Business Journal

Feds Push Return to ‘Drug War’, Maryland Officials Back Justice Reinvestment

In 2016 the Maryland General Assembly passed and the Governor signed the Justice Reinvestment Act into law. The Act sought to reform the criminal justice system, reduce needless correctional spending (saving the state millions), and reinvest savings into more efficient programs that reduce recidivism and improve criminal justice outcomes. Provisions of the Act supported state efforts to focus on treatment rather than incarceration for individuals suffering from addiction as the state remains in the grips of a heroin and opioid crisis.

A directive issued recently by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions instructs federal prosecutors to pursue harsher penalties for low-level crimes committed by drug abusers. State officials in Maryland involved in the Justice Reinvestment have expressed criticism of the new directive and the administration has expressed that the directive would not change the direction of state policy.

As reported in The Baltimore Sun:

In a memo released Friday, Sessions instructed Justice Department lawyers to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense.” By definition, he added, the most serious offenses “carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences.”

The Sessions memo runs counter to the principles that prompted Maryland to enact the Justice Reinvestment Act in 2016. The law, passed with bipartisan majorities in both houses of the General Assembly and signed by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, seeks to reduce incarceration and redirect the financial savings into treatment for offenders. It also backs off mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes.

Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said Sessions’ direction to federal law enforcement officials “does not impact Maryland state law or Hogan administration policies.” She said the administration understands that solving the heroin and opioid overdose crisis requires a “multi-pronged strategy,” including providing treatment and a second chance for people convicted of minor drug crimes.

State lawmakers involved with crafting and passing the Justice Reinvestment Act were sharply critical of Sessions’ order.

Del. Kathleen Dumais, vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee and an architect of the Maryland law, called Sessions’ move “outrageous.”

“Basically, the War on Drugs didn’t work, and to think that our attorney general is possibly going back to that is just incomprehensible,” the Montgomery County Democrat said.

Republican Sen. Michael J. Hough, of Frederick County, said he hadn’t read Sessions’ order but probably would disagree with him on the use of mandatory minimums. He said the burden should fall on Congress to follow the approach Maryland and more than 30 other states have taken.

“The policy we adopted in Maryland is really great and I wish the feds would adopt it,” said Hough, who sits on Judicial Proceedings Committee.

To learn more read the full article in The Baltimore Sun

Related coverage on Conduit Street:

Justice Reinvestment Oversight Board Briefed on Opioids, Implementation

Governor Signs Justice Reinvestment Act

General Assembly Passes Justice Reinvestment Act

City Council Proposes Bill to Retain Service Workers Amid Contract Changes

If passed by the City Council and signed by the Mayor, Baltimore City could join the ranks of Montgomery County and other cities across the nation that would require certain incoming contractors to retain existing service workers for a set period of time when contracts are transitioning to new hands.

As reported in The Baltimore Sun:

The bill requires an incoming contractor to retain the existing workforce for at least a 90-day transition period. Backers say it would protect thousands of city workers from losing jobs on short notice or being forced to reapply for their own positions.

Similar laws have been enacted in Montgomery County, California and at least 12 cities, including Philadelphia and New York and Washington.

Councilwoman Shannon Sneed, the bill’s sponsor, said the city’s service workers, including many who live in her East Baltimore district, shouldn’t have to worry about losing a job just because of a change in management. Those who are not retained after the 90-day period at least would have time to look for a new job, she said.

“We’re just saying before you come in and make changes, find out how it works,” said Sneed, who said she has strong support on the council for the bill. “We are pro-business. We ultimately want to keep people employed so these folks won’t be put out with a minute’s notice.”

The bill, which is up for a hearing before the council’s labor committee on Thursday, covers workers in security, janitorial, building maintenance and food service jobs at universities, convention centers, stadiums, residential and commercial buildings, industrial facilities, distribution centers and the casino. During the three-month transition period, workers can be fired only for cause, not just to be replaced.

A spokesman for Mayor Catherine Pugh said Friday that the mayor is withholding judgment on the proposal until after the council acts on the bill.

Read the The Baltimore Sun to learn more.

Capital Gazette: Safe Stations a Success

In an editorial The Capital Gazette opines on the recently launched Anne Arundel County Safe Stations initiative which provides a means for individuals suffering from addiction to get 24/7 walk-in assistance at police and fire stations across the county.

Last month, about two hours after officials inaugurated the effort at the Brooklyn Park Volunteer Fire Company, a man showed up at that fire station asking for help with his addiction. By last week — just two weeks later — 10 opioid and heroin users had come to either a fire or police station to seek help. The program had hit its capacity.

The initiative is an attempt to get out in front of the growing number of opioid overdoses, which has kept going up in spite of state and county efforts at education and at making available to first responders medication that counter the effects of overdoses. When the safe stations program started last month, there had been 354 overdoses in the county so far in 2017 — 100 more than in the same period in 2016.

The idea of the new program is that those addicted to drugs can get help at any of the county’s police and fire stations, 24 hours a day and seven days a week. These walk-ins get a free medical assessment.

If there’s an immediate concern, they are transferred to an appropriate medical facility. If not, they are given access to the county’s detoxification services and put in touch with the Crisis Response Team. The individuals are required to dispose of any needles or paraphernalia; police agencies will be notified only to dispose of any illegal substances the individuals bring in.

Read The Capital Gazette to learn more.

DLLR Approves Environmental Care Supervisor Apprenticeship

The Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (DLLR) has approved the first apprenticeship program in the state for environmental care supervisors that work in hospitals.

The Baltimore Sun reports:

The Baltimore Alliance for Careers in Healthcare will sponsor the new training program, Kelly M. Schulz, secretary of the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, said Tuesday.

Such programs help businesses expand their talent pools, Schulz said.

Apprentices will receive technical instruction through the Community College of Baltimore County and be paired with mentors Baltimore-area hospitals. Trainees’ wages will increase when they show proficiency in a list of predetermined job functions. Johns Hopkins Hospital will be the first institution to offer the on-the-job training

As the article notes the program will help hospitals attain well trained workers and will help job seekers looking to advance their careers.

Read The Baltimore Sun to learn more.

Howard County to Pilot Police Body Cameras

The Howard County Police Department is gearing up to pilot a police body camera program. The pilot will include 10 officers. Once the pilot is concluded, approximately 250 officers could be equipped with cameras if the county decides to move forward with a permanent program.

The Baltimore Sun reports:

A 19-member police department committee is working through a months-long process to finalize the structure of the pilot program, including policies, trainings, data, retention and internal logistics.

A draft policy detailing the program will be released once it is finalized, said Howard County Police Department Spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn. Cameras will be in use over the next few months, most likely by July.

The agreement with Axon, which is at no cost to the police department, would initiate one of two 45-day trials with two vendors selected by the committee last year. Axon will provide a box-like, body-mounted camera and Axon Flex, a camera that is mounted on glasses or a head mount. A second trial with Utility, a company that provides body cameras run through cellphones, will begin after the first trial is completed.

If the department makes the program permanent, roughly 250 police officers would be outfitted with cameras, costing between an estimated $250,000 to $350,000. The police department has roughly 475 officers. The cost estimate does not include costs to maintain the program, including additional staff needed to handle redactions to videos, data back-up, public information requests and back-end management.

For more information read the full article in The Baltimore Sun.

‘Vacants to Value’ Successful in Reducing City-Owned Properties

A report evaluating Baltimore City’s Vacants to Value program found that the program was successful in reducing the number of vacant properties owned by the City.

The program, which was launched in 2010, is intended to reduce blight and spur economic activity in city neighborhoods.

As reported in The Baltimore Sun:

The city commissioned the report for $113,930 from the Center for Community Progress, a Flint, Mich.-based nonprofit that focuses on the problem of vacant and abandoned properties. The center worked with the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance-Jacob France Institute and Schaefer Center at University of Baltimore to evaluate the program.

Michael Braverman, the acting commissioner of the Department of Housing & Community Development, said the report showed the program has made progress and is worth maintaining, but he expects Mayor Catherine E. Pugh to put her own stamp on it by expanding demolition activity and pushing to include more city departments in the initiative.

Launched in 2010, Vacants to Value steps up code enforcement in areas where homes are vacant or abandoned and encourages developers to rehabilitate those properties.

The new report showed that while the total number of vacant and abandoned homes has gone up since 2010, the number of vacant properties owned by the city has declined.

There were a total of 16,548 vacant and abandoned homes in the city in 2014, 483 more than in 2010.

Over the same time period the number of city-owned vacant properties declined from 3,282 to 2,620, which Seema Iyer, associate director of the Jacob France Institute, said is a sign of the program’s success.

“When the city owns a property, the Vacants to Value program has demonstrated it’s good at getting it in the hands of people who will bring it to good use,” Iyer said.

Read The Baltimore Sun to learn more.

Tools to reduce blight and revitalize communities will be discussed at the 2017 MACo Summer Conference.

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference:

Audit: City Police in Compliance with Body Camera Policy

An audit completed by the Baltimore City Police Department found that the department is in compliance with the policy established for its body camera program. The department has taken action to address disciplinary and training issues where violations of the policy were found.

As reported in The Baltimore Sun:

Baltimore police policy requires that officers start recording “at the initiation of a call for service or other activity or encounter that is investigative or enforcement-related in nature,” or when an encounter with the public becomes confrontational. There are some exceptions, such as when civilians request to not be recorded during a voluntary encounter or when dealing with a confidential informant.

Out of 3,441 mandatory video recordings from arrests, car stops, field interviews and other incidents last year, officers saved 3,290 recordings.

One-third of the inspection reports show some violations because officers either did not record an encounter or store video as required.

Baltimore police spokesman T.J. Smith said officers have been disciplined for violations of the policy.

“This audit was put in place to address any shortcomings that might exist,” he said. “We have been proactively able to address disciplinary concerns and training issues as a result of our self-initiated audits.”

For more information read The Baltimore Sun

Manpower shortage, Heroin Crisis Challenge Harford Sheriff’s Office

County Executive Glassman increases budget to sheriff’s office to help close gaps.

The Harford County Sheriff’s Office has 25 vacancies at a time when the county continues to grapple with a heroin crisis. As officials keep a close and concerned eye on the growing presence of carfentanil and an increase in overdose deaths within the county that has already exceeded 2016 levels, County Executive Barry Glassman has committed to an increase in the office’s budget to help retain and increase the office’s manpower.  Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler presented these issues at a recent County Council work session.

The Baltimore Sun reports:

While the county’s principal law enforcement agency is getting a boost in funding to provide raises for its sworn officers, the Sheriff’s Office has “25 holes in our schedule that we’re carrying,” Gahler said during a recent work session with the County Council on his agency’s proposed $76.5 million budget for fiscal 2018.

“Any time we have a vacancy, it’s a [risk] to the citizens in not having a deputy out there on the street,” Gahler said.

The 25 “holes” the sheriff referred to includes 10 vacant positions among law enforcement deputies and 15 graduates of the Sheriff’s Office police academy who, following their late April graduation, must go through weeks of field training before they can hit the road on their own.

Gahler told council members that his investigators are watching for the drug to show up in Harford County, warning them “carfentanil is coming” and that “it’s going to kill a lot more people.”

“We know where this is going to lead us, to even higher numbers on our boards,” Gahler said.

The proposed $76.5 million budget for next year comes with a net increase of nearly $2 million more than the $74.5 million Sheriff’s Office budget approved for this year.

Glassman is committing $2.2 million for the first year of salary increases for deputies, along with $317,344 to cover a 4 percent merit salary increase for civilian employees — he is funding 4 percent salary increases for all eligible county employees, his third annual employee salary increase.

Gahler told council members he expects “all the compression issues to some degree will be nearly fully addressed.”

“It is a very fair and equitable plan for the men and women of the sheriff’s office in their sworn roles and capacities,” he said.

Read the full article in The Baltimore Sun to learn more.

Montgomery County Council Passes Bill to Battle Blight

The Montgomery County Council unanimously passed a bill that would create escalating penalties for owners of vacant and blighted properties that fail to correct code violations in a timely manner.

As reported in The Washington Post:

There are at least 350 vacant houses in Montgomery, many owned by out-of-state residents or developers “who simply have no short-term incentive to care for the property or put it back on the market,” Tom Hucker (D-Eastern County), the bill’s sponsor, said in a memo to his fellow council members.

Under county law, owners of vacant homes face fines of up to $500 for failing to clear up code violations within 90 days. But fines can be contested in court, where proceedings are often delayed and penalties lowered.

Hucker’s bill imposes an escalating schedule of fees — similar to those charged to owners for false fire alarms — that can’t be contested. The measure calls for the county housing department to begin a registry of poorly maintained vacant properties and inspect them for code violations. Owners whose homes remain in poor condition after 90 days would be charged for each subsequent county inspection. (Fees for false alarms start at $25 and can reach $4,000 for 20 alarm calls.)

Read The Washington Post to learn more.

Related coverage on Conduit Street:

Montgomery Passes Bill to Enforce Foreclosed Property Registry

Tools for addressing blighted and vacant properties and for spurring community revitalization will be a topic covered at the 2017 MACo Summer Conference.

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference: