We Need to Talk about Maryland’s Drug Problem Find me a newspaper that isn’t blaring “OPIOIDS OPIOIDS OPIOIDS!!!” on the cover and I’ll show you the grade school students who wrote it. We’re in the midst a real epidemic here, and people are really conflicted about what to do next. Do we offer more addiction services? Do we throw users in jail? Do we sue the pharmaceutical companies and/or doctors?

As it turns out, Maryland said “Yes” to all three of those questions – and that’s where things can get tricky, especially if you’re battling addiction yourself. So, I thought it might be time to break down what, exactly, this crisis is; what can get you into trouble, and where you can find help – for yourself or for your friends and family members.

Opioids vs. opiates

When people talk about the opioid epidemic, they sometimes lump in drugs that aren’t actually opioids. An opioid is a synthetic drug designed to ease pain. The “big” ones include:

  • Fentanyl
  • Dilaudid
  • Vicodin
  • Percocet
  • Oxycontin
  • Methadone

Every single opioid drug is a prescription drug. There are no exceptions to this rule. Now, some opioids are manufactured illegally, and some street dealers mix them with other drugs (fentanyl and coke is a pretty popular, and pretty deadly, combination), but opioids are prescription painkillers that are made in labs.

Opiates, on the other hand, are naturally derived from opium. Two of the most well-known, morphine and codeine, are also prescription drugs. The two best known opiates, opium and heroin, are not.

So when the papers say there’s an opioid crisis, and they lump heroin in with Oxy, they’re wrong. Not about there being a problem (there’s definitely a problem), but about the types of drugs themselves. After all, the opioid methadone was supposed to help people addicted to heroin kick the habit.

You could eat the irony with a spoon.

What’s illegal when it comes to these drugs?

It depends. Simply possessing an opiate like heroin or opium is enough to land you in prison for up to four years. If you get caught selling it, that’s a felony offense. A trafficking conviction? Try decades in prison and millions in fines.

But possessing a prescription drug, like fentanyl, is different. Frist of all, if you can prove you have a prescription, then having a pain patch or two on your person should be fine. But if you have, like, 20 pain patches on you, then you could get hit with an intent to distribute charge. If you have 100 and you’re in your car when you’re caught, now you might be charged with trafficking. And if the cops add a kingpin charge on top, you could end up dying of old age in jail – provided the withdrawal doesn’t kill you, first.

Of course, if you go into withdrawal, they’ll give you methadone. And the cycle continues.

Changes in the law

Governor Hogan also signed two bills into law designed to fight the crisis:

  1. Start Talking Maryland Act. Public schools must offer drug education, starting in the third grade, that discusses the dangers of heroin and opioids. They also have to train staff to use naloxone, and keep the overdose-reversal drug available.
  2. HOPE Act. This one covered a lot: “It requires hospitals to set a new protocol for discharging patients treated for substance abuse disorders. It creates a 24-hour emergency hotline and establishes a 24/7 crisis treatment center for people experiencing mental health and substance abuse crises. It also increases access to the overdose-reversal drug known as naloxone. The bill also provides added funding for community behavioral health providers.”

There is also legislation pending that would “create an added 10-year penalty for people who knowingly sell fentanyl resulting in an overdose death.”

Local Maryland resources for help

Prevention might be key, but that doesn’t help when your buddy or your sister or someone you love is circling the drain because they can’t get off drugs. No law in the world is going to stop addiction. But there are some places that are doing their best to help people through it. If you know someone with a problem, these resources can help:

You can find a more robust list of treatment centers here, though the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or through the state’s treatment directory. The Maryland Crisis Hotline is 1-800-422-0009

Fighting drug charges is tough, but not impossible. Fighting a drug addiction is even tougher – but it’s not impossible, either. At Drew Cochran, Attorney at Law, my staff and I can help you when things seem bleak. To learn more about our drug charge defense services, or to schedule an appointment, please call 410-777-8103 or fill out this contact form.

You’re not in this fight alone. Just remember: Keep Calm – and Call Drew.