Rep. John Sarbanes will serve on a conference committee charged with reconciling the vastly different opioid addiction bills passed by the House and Senate, offering him an opportunity to help address one of Baltimore's most intractable problems.
Sarbanes, a Baltimore County Democrat who represents portions of Baltimore City, was named to the conference committee Tuesday by House leaders. The five-term lawmaker was one of the few Democrats to shepherd a bill through the House last week intended to mitigate a national increase in heroin and prescription drug overdoes.
Despite a new emphasis on opiate addiction in rural areas, the uptick in overdoses has also hit Baltimore -- a city plagued by addiction for years. Some 20,000 people are addicted to heroin in Baltimore and more than 340 people in the city died from drug and alcohol overdoses in the first three quarters of 2015, up from the 303 who died in all of 2014.
"Opioid addiction is inflicting a savage daily toll on communities and families across America,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “Our Democratic conferees will lead the way in pressing Congress to respond to this national emergency with the seriousness and urgency it requires.”
Sarbanes' proposal, which was passed on a voice vote last week, would encourage and train doctors to prescribe overdose reversal drugs, such as Naloxone, when they prescribe pain medication and other opioids. The idea is to ensure that if a patient becomes addicted and overdoses that there is medication on hand that could save his or her life.