Ocean City Today

Commissioners reject joint Narcan plan for county jail

Vote blocks availability anti-overdose spray to inmates upon their release
By Brian Gilliland | Jul 20, 2017

(July 21, 2017) A memorandum of understanding between the health department and county jail to provide life-saving doses of opioid blocker Narcan to addicted inmates as they are released from detainment was soundly rejected by the Worcester County Commissioners this week.

The plan was called an extension of existing training services the health department already provides to law enforcement, emergency responders, the general public and inmates as the state grapples with an addiction epidemic.

Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency in March to release funding and resources to help combat the growing opiate problem in the state.

According to Debra Stevens, director of community health and preparedness at the health department, based on last year’s numbers, 59 people would have been eligible to receive the drug, with the county bearing the $75 per unit cost. Each unit contains two doses.

To run the program for the year would have been less than $4,500, based on those numbers.

Ocean City’s representative on the board, Joe Mitrecic, led the opposition to the measure by pointing out the ready availability of the drug in local pharmacies, and the fact that other life-saving drugs, like insulin for diabetics, EpiPens for those with allergies, and heart medications all required prescriptions.

“When [Narcan] first came out, you had to take a course, now you don’t have to. You can walk in and purchase it for $45 without insurance and for $1” using either Medicare or Medicaid, he said. “This flies in the face of common sense.”

Commissioner president Jim Bunting was more direct.

“I don’t want to vote on it, I don’t support it and I want this over with,” he said, though the other commissioners present each wanted to have their say.

Commissioner Bud Church explained that during a recent meeting in Annapolis, a representative of Allegany County said it had two volunteer fire companies on the verge of bankruptcy because they are not reimbursed for overdose runs.

Commissioner Ted Elder said that by supplying the drug to those in addiction recovery was like supplying people with a safety net, which therefore led to an increased risk of overdose.

“I think it’s human nature. You sent people out there on a tightrope and people are encouraged because you’re sending them out there with a safety net,” he said.

Commissioner Merrill Lockfaw said the health department was taking the wrong approach, and needed to view the issue through the lens of smoking cessation. He also questioned who would administer the drug, presumably because the person it was issued to would be unconscious or worse in the event it became necessary to use.

Commissioner Diana Purnell thought the commissioners should do something about the problem, though not necessarily this plan. Because Narcan is so readily available, she said, perhaps the county could provide another service, but didn’t elaborate on any other ideas.

County Heath Officer Becky Jones, in her inaugural address to the commissioners, asked if the issue could be tabled to allow the department to return with more information.

Bunting said he would rather not take a stance on the plan at all, and asked if a motion on the listed agenda item for approval was necessary. He was informed by county administration that it was.

Church suggested the county try the program on a limited basis — six months — to give officials a better understanding of what managing the program might actually entail. He made a motion to initiate the plan as outlined by the two agencies on a trial basis, which was seconded by Purnell, but failed as the remaining commissioners voted against the measure.

A second motion to deny the health department and county jail permission to implement the program passed six votes to zero.

Commissioner Chip Bertino was absent from the meeting.

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