Dan Morhaim Responds to Opioid Den Criticism
Delegate Dan Morhaim sent an email to Red Maryland today responding to my criticism of Democratic legislation creating heroin houses.
For the sake of transparency, here’s an annotated version of that email, with Morhaim’s email in italics, followed by my response.
Your article about SB288/HB326 has numerous flaws and inaccurate statements.
First, I hope we can agree that the opioid crisis is real, that we are opposed to substance abuse, and that these problems need to be addressed in every way possible, especially by those that are evidence-based. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Each substance abuser has unique circumstances, and that’s why I support every proven method including long-term treatment, faith-based treatment, medication assisted treatment, support groups like Narcotics or Alcoholic Anonymous, Crisis Stabilization Centers, and others.
So far, there’s reasonable agreement to this.
Supervised Consumption Facilities (SCF) are proven effective in reducing drug use, reducing disease, reducing discarded needles, reducing crime, and getting people into treatment. Equally important, there have been no overdose deaths in any of the facilities in operation because a trained rescuer is present at all times. A report from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health documents this. If you don’t have a copy, I’ll send one to you.
“Supervised consumption” i.e. free, taxpayer-funded heroin, may do all of these things. But the basic premise of this is wildly inaccurate. The premise is that the state should be in the business of creating places where heroin may be distributed at taxpayer expense, along with all of the necessary accouterments necessary to shoot up heroin. It is not the responsibility of the state, either constitutionally or under any valid theory of government, to use taxpayer dollars to fund drug habits.
The legislation specifically states that SCF are not allowed in areas zoned residential. Your implication that these will be located in neighborhoods is completely inaccurate.
Morhaim is trying to play cute here. The exact language that I used was “They want to give heroin users the opportunity to shoot up heroin in your community” which says nothing about neighborhoods. But even if it did, where I grew up there was commercially zoned property less than 500 feet from our property line. There are a lot of places across Maryland where these heroin houses would be mere steps from the front doors of places where parents are trying to raise children. Morhaim knows this, but is trying to create shades of gray here. If Morhaim and his cohorts were as concerned with this as they pretend they are, they would have included a provision that required these heroin houses to be located a certain distance from any residential property instead of allowing for the cop-out that is included.
During both bill hearings, there was no opposition, written or in personal testimony. Law enforcement did not oppose, nor did any branch of local or state government. Every addiction advocacy group supported the bill as did Med-Chi, the Maryland State Medical Society. That’s because they see this bill for what it is: a proven public health approach to a crisis.
Legislators always hang their hat on this, despite the fact that most citizens find it impossible to find out what bills are being heard and by what committee when the General Assembly website makes it impossible for a regular civilian who does not keep up with politics to find this stuff.
The bill does not “empower the state” to set up SCF. These facilities would be set up by Community Based Organizations, a long-standing and well-defined term in Maryland law. The state, coordinating with local government, would insure that safety and operational standards are met.
SCF would not operate at “taxpayer expense”, another false statement in your article. It would be up to the Community Based Organizations to arrange funding.
Morhaim is trying to play cute with this as well. He knows that this is intended to be the camel’s nose under the tent for state funding for these programs. It is impossible to get the state to fund a program that is not already ensconced in law like this. If this bill were to be passed, we all know that bond bills for these CBO’s to fund these heroin houses would be introduced by legislators in the 2019 General Assembly session. Morhaim knows this but is hoping that nobody points this out.
You write that people will “shoot up heroin in your community”. Unfortunately, they are doing that already. The problem is that they are shooting up in back alleys, home bedrooms, public and private bathrooms, and other places where they are alone and overdose and die. In SCF, the substance abuser can be saved and also directed to treatment. Again, no overdose deaths in SCF.
Yes, that may very well be true. But providing a place for people to shoot up heroin does not get people clean from heroin. It just gives them a clean needle to shoot up heroin close to communities and neighborhoods, regardless of what Morhaim’s flimsy clause about residential zoning says.
Last, my interest in this is purely human and is driven by what I’ve seen as a practicing emergency medicine physician. I first introduced legislation on this topic in 1998 (HB149 – enacted), and that bill increased funding for addiction treatment. This was long before this issue was getting much attention, and had more of its provisions been adopted, we might not be in the mess we are in today. Your insinuation of “financial interest” is completely baseless, as I have none and will never have any.
Morhaim also introduced legislation in 2016 which would have decriminalized small amounts of all controlled substances including heroin, cocaine and other highly dangerous and addictive drugs, justifying that proposal by making the same argument that marijuana advocates had made years earlier, namely that decriminalization of all drugs would free up police resources and reduce incarceration of drug users.
Additional, Morhaim’s argument that ” Your insinuation of “financial interest” is completely baseless, as I have none and will never have any” would probably be a little more convincing had Morhaim not been exposed for having a financial interest in a company seeking a marijuana license while simultaneously the state’s medical cannabis commission how to set up and regulate the marijuana industry. If you recall, we demanded that Morhaim resign or be removed from the General Assembly.
Based on Morhaim’s response it’s pretty clear that Democrats in the General Assembly are starting to feel the heat regarding this legislation and how they were hoping to create these heroin houses under our noses without people noticing.