Education has long been touted as one of the most effective tools to prevent drug and alcohol addiction. Public schools in Maryland will put that theory to the test once more, under a new state law that took effect on July 1. The Start Talking Maryland Act requires public schools to offer drug education that includes the dangers of heroin and other opioids starting as early as third grade.
The law requires schools to provide age-appropriate education at least once during each of three phases of a student’s career — once between third and fifth grades, once between sixth and eighth grades and once between ninth and 12th grades.
“The key is to start talking about it,” said Del. Eric Bromwell, a Baltimore County Democrat and one of the lead sponsors of the bill. “You really need to get to people sooner, and you need to get to them over and over again.”
The Act also requires public schools to stock the overdose-reversal drug naloxone, train staff to use it and to report naloxone uses to the state.
Maryland colleges and universities have started planning to include heroin education into programs for incoming students to comply with the new law. The law requires all state-funded colleges and universities to have a heroin and opioid prevention plan that includes education for incoming full-time students and training in naloxone for campus police and public safety officers.
In mid-July, officials from the University System of Maryland, private colleges and community colleges and the state secretary of higher education were briefed on the law’s requirements, according to Lee Towers, legislative director for the Maryland Higher Education Commission.
The University System of Maryland, which includes a dozen institutions and two regional higher education centers, supported the legislation that created the new law. At the University of Maryland, College Park, officials are evaluating how to comply with it, Towers told the Baltimore Sun.
Harford Community College is planning to work a half-hour session on heroin into student orientation, spokeswoman Nancy Dysard told the Sun. Dysard says the college has already been working with the Harford County sheriff’s office. The college already has public safety officers trained and equipped with naloxone, and some nursing students and psychology students are also trained.
Howard Community College plans to develop an online course on heroin for incoming students, spokeswoman Elizabeth Homan said. Howard has already equipped its public safety officers with naloxone.
At lower grade levels, school systems are using summer break to update or revamp their drug education programs. The state Department of Education provided a $4,000 grant to each of the 24 local school systems to help launch those efforts.
Baltimore County teamed with CVS this past year to bring pharmacists into some high schools to speak to students about opioid addiction, a program that may be expanded. The system may also arrange to bring police officers into classrooms.
Anne Arundel County is using its state grant to buy more books on addiction for elementary students and materials on heroin for a parents’ conference planned for the fall, Gayle Cicero, director of student services, told the Sun.
The education bill was one of several opiate-related measures passed by the legislature earlier this year. Another bill orders the creation of a 24/7 crisis treatment center for addicts and provides for the establishment of a network of centers around the state. It would also provide increases in reimbursement rates for drug treatment in line with inflation and make it easier for friends and relatives of addicts to get access to the overdose reversing drug naloxone.
Lawmakers also passed a bill to require doctors to follow the best available science when prescribing potentially addictive opioid pain pills and aim to dole out as few pills as possible. It had originally called for a strict seven-day limit on supplies, but the state’s doctors opposed that idea. The other would impose stiff additional prison sentences on people convicted of a drug dealing offense involving fentanyl.
Gov. Larry Hogan also budgeted an extra $10 million a year for five years to fight addiction and declared a state of emergency.