BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- The opioid epidemic continues to devastate communities across the country, including right here in Maryland, as opioid overdose remains among one of the state's leading causes of death.
From April 2020 to April 2021, more than 100,000 people nationwide died of drug overdoses, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, a record-setting figure that represents a 28% percent increase compared to the year before.
Now, a Maryland woman who's in recovery is challenging lawmakers to take meaningful steps to confront the root of the problem.
Jennifer Wysong of Kent County is in her sixth year of recovery from an opioid addiction that upended her life. She said her addiction started small but quickly spiraled out of control.
"It doesn't seem like you take a pill and you're going to end up a heroin addict, you know, living on the streets," Wysong said.
She said she was first introduced to opioids when a doctor prescribed them after she had emergency C-section surgery during the birth of her daughter.
"My addiction took off from there for a couple of years," she said. "I then soon turned over to heroin."
Recent data compiled by the CDC shows in the year from June 2020 to June 2021, there were more than 2,800 reported drug overdose deaths in Maryland, up 15% over the same time the previous year.
"How many lives have to be lost before somebody does something about this?" Wysong said. "It's...really shocking to me how widespread this has become."
It wasn't until recently that Wysong learned there alternatives to opioid pain management after surgery. She wishes she knew that before her addiction.
"Had the surgeon given me an option, maybe things would have ended up different," Wysong said.
She wants others to be aware of the treatment options available before it's too late.
"Family members, friends, mothers, fathers, you know, brothers and sisters—literally just wiped off the planet because of this epidemic that's going on," Wysong said. "And it's frustrating."
That's why Wysong is urging state lawmakers to throw their support behind a recently introduced bill, known as the Non-Opioids Prevention Addiction in the Nation Act (NOPAIN).
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the bill's co-sponsor, said it aims to increase access for patients and doctors to non-opioid forms of pain management.
He said it would offer incentives for the development and prescription of alternatives to opioids.
"The way the system is set up right now, it can be more convenient and more cost effective for hospitals to prescribe opioids to outpatients after surgery," Van Hollen said.
Wysong hopes the legislation will make a difference for families struggling with addiction, so they don't have to endure the pain she put herself and her loved ones through.
"I do believe this will save lives," Van Hollen said. "We need to expand access to people who are addicted to opioids to break the addiction, but then we need to really focus on the front end too, which is preventing the cycle of addiction to begin with."
Wysong is now working at Avenues Recovery Center in Cambridge, where she helps others who are going through the same things she has. She also went back to school to become an addiction counselor.
In addition to the NOPAIN Act, Van Hollen is supporting efforts to reintroduce the CARE Act, which would set aside $125 billion in federal funding over the next 10 years to fight the opioid epidemic.
Maryland will receive $400 million from a settlement with Johnson & Johnson, an opioid manufacturer. The state plans to invest those funds in addiction prevention, education and treatment resources.
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