Maryland Touts new Generic Drug Price-Gouging Law

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Following Maryland’s recent efforts as the first state to enact a law that protects consumers from generic prescription drug price-gouging, local leaders and health care advocates on Tuesday highlighted the benefits of the legislation and urged Marylanders to share their personal stories about drug affordability.

The law went into effect Oct. 1 and restricts manufacturers of generic and off-patent prescription drugs from price gouging, or the “excessive and not justified” increase in the cost of a drug, according to a state analysis.

In July, the Association for Accessible Medicines, the trade association that represents America’s manufacturers of generic and biosimilar medicines, filed a lawsuit against Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and Dennis Schrader, secretary of the Maryland Department of Health, charging that the law was unconstitutional. The association said in July that the law was only protecting high-priced brand name drug companies and punishing lower cost generic alternatives.

In September, a judge rejected portions of the association’s argument and allowed the law to take effect. The association in a statement has said it plans to appeal.

“As a caregiver, prescription drugs are a big part of my life,” said Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker in a press release. Baker on Tuesday explained how the law has personally affected him and his family. His wife was diagnosed with early onset dementia and the cost of her medication had shot up from $100 during his earlier pharmacy visits to $300 in recent visits.
“You think about the fact that I have some of the best insurance as county executive. … I have resources, but what happens to somebody that comes in and can’t afford to pay $300?” Baker said.

Generic medications account for 88 percent of drugs dispensed nationally, and 22 percent of generics studied by the Government Accountability Office experienced an “extraordinary price increase” of 100 percent or greater between 2010 and 2015, according to the office of the Maryland Attorney General.

“I take care of patients, not laws,” Dr. Stephen Rockower, past president of MedChi said Tuesday. “My job is to make sure that patients get better, which means patients taking their medicine, and I can’t do my job when they can’t afford their medicine.”

EpiPens and Naloxone are medications that officials have raised concerns about recently — citing prices that rose sharply from October 2013 to April 2014. Prices of EpiPens had a 508 percent increase in price. Naloxone, a medication used to treat opioid overdose — an especially important medication amid the nation’s opioid crisis — increased in price by 553 percent, according to the office of the Maryland Attorney General.

“It’s outrageous that companies can jack up prices like this,” Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative President Vincent DeMarco told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service. “This law is a life-saver and we’re confident that the attorney general will continue to succeed in court with this legislation.”

Maryland joined 44 other states on Tuesday in an antitrust investigation of the generic drug industry. They asked a federal court for permission to file a new complaint to increase the number of generic drug manufacturer defendants from six to 16, and drugs at issue from two to 15.

“We have to go after it,” said Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh told Capital News Service. “We’ll see the drug companies collapse and take it to trial.”

Supporters of the legislation urged consumers on Tuesday to submit their stories to www.healthcareforall.com/hearmystory, a new webpage created for the public to share how escalating drug prices have hurt them or their families.

“As legislators, one of the ways we were able to fight was to hear the stories of individuals and repeat them in court by talking to people who could not afford the medicine that they needed,” said state Delegate Ariana Kelly (D-Montgomery). “We need your help to make sure that the legislation works.”

By Georgia Slater

Md. Medical society asks hospitals to review opioid doses

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The Maryland State Medical Society is taking action amidst the nation’s opioid crisis and urging hospitals and physicians in the state to decrease the automated controlled-substance standing orders and to prescribe a minimum amount of opioids necessary.

This epidemic is gathering attention in Maryland — Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency March 1 and committed an additional $50 million over five years to help with prevention.

The number of deaths due to prescription opioids decreased slightly — from 218 to 211— in the first half of this year over the same time period last year, Jan 1. To June 30, according to state health department data released Tuesday.

But the increase in all opioid-related deaths recent years has been sharp: From 2014 to 2017, the number of opioid-related deaths reported in Maryland between Jan. 1 and March 31 more than doubled — taking the death toll up to 473 from 226 three years earlier, according to state health department data.

In response to this crisis, the society, known as MedChi, created an Opioid Task Force to “educate Maryland physicians on safe opioid prescribing practices, how to recognize risk factors, and when to recommend alternative, scientifically-based evidence-based non-opioid treatments,” according to a release earlier this month.

Over the last decade and a half, the amount of opioids prescribed in the United States has risen sharply.

The amount of opioids prescribed per person more than tripled from 1999 to 2015, when the volume of prescriptions reached enough for every American to be medicated for three weeks straight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The problem may have began in the 1990s when physicians received messages saying they were undertreating pain, said MedChi President Dr. Gary Pushkin.

The “inadequate treatment of pain” was the subject of many policy efforts in the 1990s and among these were the “increased use of opioids for acute pain and the use of long-term opioid therapy for patients with chronic pain,” according to a 2016 paper in the
American Journal of Law and Medicine.

“Doctors do have a role in the whole opioid problem, but I don’t think we are the bad guys that we are painted out to be … a majority of doctors want to do the right thing,” added Pushkin.

Now with the ongoing epidemic and continual increase in opioid prescriptions, MedChi is seeking out these smaller changes with the hopes of a larger impact.

The group is asking that physicians and hospitals review the automated controlled substance “standing orders” that are in the electronic health record systems.

These systems may be creating these standing orders automatically as the recommended dosages — even when lower dosages would be sufficient, Pushkin said.

With this initiative, MedChi is asking that if opioids are being prescribed, hospitals and physicians do not solely rely on auto-populated dosages, and instead they decide which dosage, preferably one that is more minimal, is actually necessary for the pain being treated, explained MedChi CEO Gene Ransom.

Letters have been sent to Maryland hospitals and physicians, according to Pushkin, suggesting that either, “(1) the physicians’ standing orders be reduced to the minimum dosage and quantities necessary or (2) that practices remove any automated dosage and quantity in the …ordering system.”

Ransom said MedChi has received positive responses from hospitals and physicians, and some have begun looking into enacting these changes. Many of them were appreciative that more is being done to try and solve this opioid problem, he added.

“We are very much in line with MedChi’s efforts to reduce standing orders and we know that our efforts can’t just stop there. There are many more measures we have to take on a wider basis for this issue,” Nicole Stallings, Maryland Hospital Association vice president of policy and data analytics told Capital News Service.

The association has been trying to tackle the epidemic for years — in 2015 the group created a set of opioid prescribing guidelines, which included altering standard orders, and 100 percent of Maryland hospital emergency departments signed on to using these guidelines, Stallings added.

Prescribing opioids for too many days and at too high a dose can create a problem, according to the CDC.

Even at low doses, taking an opioid for more than three months can increase the risk of addiction by 15 times, the CDC reported.

A solution may be prescribing for fewer days; for acute pain, prescriptions for three days or fewer is often enough, and more than seven days is rarely needed, according to the CDC.

“This small adjustment could help prevent patients from receiving a higher dosage or quantity than necessary, and may prevent diversion (giving drugs to other people) or other problems,” said Pushkin.

Additionally, many of these opioid prescriptions go unused and are improperly stored in the home, according to a 2017 Johns Hopkins Medicine study.

Dr. Mark Bick, associate professor of anesthesiology and critical care at Hopkins, spearheaded the study and found that 67 to 92 percent of a total of 810 patients did not use their entire opioid prescription, but still held onto them, increasing the risk of misuse.

“Our task force continues to work on solutions to this problem and we are going to keep working on it and are open to more ideas to how this can work better. It’s a common sense solution….If we can reduce just a small number (of deaths) it’s worth it,” said Ransom.

By Georgia Slater
Capital News Service

November Events to Promote Diabetes Awareness

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Recent public health statistics indicate that diabetes rates for Maryland’s Eastern Shore counties are approaching — and in some cases, exceeding — 10 percent. According to Trish Rosenberry, regional director, UM Shore Regional Health Specialty Clinics, this high prevalence is made more dangerous due to lack of public awareness of the disease and its potential consequences. “More than 25 percent of people who have diabetes are undiagnosed and asymptomatic, and therefore are unaware that they have the disease and may be experiencing damage to their heart, eyes, kidneys, and limbs,” Rosenberry says.

The prevalence of diabetes and the potential damage it poses to overall health are highlighted each November through the American Diabetes Association’s national campaign for Diabetes Awareness. In observance of Diabetes Month this year, health care providers in Kent County have planned three events – one in Worton and two in Chestertown – to help those coping with with diabetes and/or prediabetes gain a better understanding of the disease and strategies to manage it for their best possible health.

On Saturday, November 4, the Mt. Olive AME Church in Worton is hosting a Diabetes Health Fair, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. This event, which includes a free luncheon and gifts for attendees, will provide expert help regarding diet, nutrition, exercise/wellness, natural foods and nutrition products. “Representatives from UM Center for Diabetes and Endocrinology, Kent Athletic Center, Chestertown Natural Foods, and Nuts and Seeds, among others will be there, giving presentations and answering questions from those in attendance,” says Chrissy Nelson, diabetes educator.

Also free and open to the public is a seminar, “You Can Eat and Still Lose Weight,” set for Wednesday, November 8, 1:30 to 2:30 p.m., in UM Shore Medical Center at Chestertown’s Education Center. Local dietitians Mary King and Cheyrle Borneman will offer tips on how to achieve your desired weight without severe dieting.

“Food Shopping for Health,” a grocery store tour set for Thursday, November 9, 1 to 3 p.m. at Redner’s Market in Chestertown, is designed to show how anyone with diabetes or pre-diabetes can shop and plan for meals that will promote optimal health. “A diabetes diagnosis can seem overwhelming, but there are shopping strategies to help you plan menus and fill up your cart with the right foods to maintain your best health,” says Mary King, nutrition services coordinator, UM Shore Medical Center at Chestertown, who leads the tour. “This tour helps people learn how to ‘shop smart’ and select foods that will help them avoid complications.” Persons interested in participating in the tour should RSVP by calling 410-778-3300, ext. 2295.

Ongoing diabetes support and education services at UM Shore Medical Center in Chestertown include: the diabetes support group, which meets the first Tuesday of every month, 6:30 p.m.; and Diabetes Self-Management, a three-class (nine hour) program for persons who are newly diagnosed or need help in controlling their disease. A doctor’s referral and advance registration is required. Physician and advance practice provider care is offered by appointment in Chestertown on Wednesdays, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

For more information or to make an appointment, contact 410-822-1000, ext.5757.

Shore Health: Maryland to Offer Online Shopping Tool for Medical Procedures

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The Maryland Health Care Commission, the state’s independent regulatory agency, is unveiling a website on which people scheduling a hip replacement, knee replacement, hysterectomy or vaginal delivery can see price differences among different providers for the same procedure.

The site is launching amid rising health-care costs and as some consumers turn to insurance plans with high deductibles.

The state site is meant to give consumers a tool to compare prices and quality on four common medical procedures at hospitals around the state that patients otherwise would have difficulty finding on their own.

Read the full story in the Washington Post here

Winter is Coming: Got Your Flu Shot?

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by Peter Heck and Jane Jewell

Have you had your flu shot yet?

The beginning of flu season is rapidly approaching, and now’s the time to get this year’s flu shot. I got mine last Thursday at the Kent County Health Department at 125 South Lynchburg Street in Chestertown. It was fast, about a five-minute wait with only one person ahead of me. There was only virtually no hassle, just one quick form to fill out.  Bring your insurance or Medicare/Medicaid cards and the cost is covered with no co-pay, in most cases.  So it’s basically free and the vaccine gives me a good chance of getting through the upcoming flu season without any of the all-too-familiar symptoms of the virus.

But does a flu shot really help?  Many people say that they got the shot one year but still got the flu. Yes, that happens.  But the Center for Disease Control (CDC) does a study each year to determine how effective that year’s flu vaccine was and how it compares to previous years.  What they have found is that, while it varies from year to year, vaccination reduces the chance of catching the flu by between 40% and 60%.  Thus there’s no guarantee that you won’t get the flu but you have a much better chance of resisting it than those who don’t get the flu shot.  For every one hundred unprotected persons who get the flu, only 40-60 vaccinated persons come down with it.  So with the vaccine, you have a decent chance of avoiding the flu.  Without it, you may be sniffling and missing work for one to two weeks – or more.  So, yes, the flu shot helps.

The flu hits suddenly, no gradual buildup of symptoms like the common cold often has. You don’t wonder if you might be coming down with something; you know when it hits.  Fortunately, the severe symptoms usually last no more than 2-3 days.  However, other symptoms such an intermittent low fever, cough, weakness, and fatigue may last a week or more. Sometimes, there is a lingering dry cough that lasts or returns again and again over the course of a few months.  Catching the flu can end up with you not feeling up to par for the whole winter. So avoiding the flu is really a good thing!  And the flu shot improves your chances.

Peter Heck, your intrepid Spy reporter, receives his lollipop from  Rita Kulley, RN, program manage of the Flu Clinic, after she gave him his flu shot. (As proof, note the band-aid on upper arm.) 

The Kent County Health Department is holding walk-in flu clinics every Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon through the end of December.  No appointments necessary. Tell ’em the Spy sent you.

Regular flu shots cost $30; while high-dosage shots for seniors are $50. But in most cases, it’s free, no money changes hands. Medicare and Medicaid pick up the entire cost while most insurance companies pay all or most of the cost. The clinic accepts Medicare and MCOs for payment, as well as cash, checks and credit cards.  MCOs are the Managed Care Organizations that provide services to Medicaid recipients.

The strains of flu virus in circulation change each season, so last year’s inoculation is unlikely to be effective against this year’s bugs, which the current vaccine is tailored to protect you from. October and early November are the best times to get your vaccination. That way your immune system can develop antibodies before the flu season kicks in around Thanksgiving. Good idea to develop immunity before those big family gatherings followed by the frenetic shopping and festive parties of December. There’s no better time to visit a qualified health care provider and get your shots updated than now.

In addition to the Health Department, flu shots are available at many local pharmacies. No appointments are needed, just walk-in.  Usually there is no or very little wait.

Rite Aid Pharmacy in Chestertown offers the shots Mon-Fri from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m, Sat 9 to 6, Sun 10 to 9.

Walgreen’s Pharmacy in Chestertown offers the shots from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays, 8 to 6 Saturdays and 10 to 6 Sundays.

Edwards Pharmacy at 102 S. Commerce St. near the Centreville courthouse, offers the shots from 8 a.m to 6 p.m. weekdays, 8 to 2 Saturdays.

Edwards has just opened a pharmacy in Chestertown but they are not yet geared up to offer flu shots. Next year, they said, Edwards Pharmacy Chestertown will have flu vaccines.

Prices tend to be similar to the Health Department; most insurance plans pick up the entire cost. For those without insurance, the standard shot is around $30, and $50 to $60 for the high-dose senior shot. Bring your insurance cards when you go for the shot.

Rite aid Pharmacy in Kent Plaza shopping center in Chestertown at the intersection of Washington Ave. (Rt 213) and Morgnec Rd. (Rt. 291) Flu shots available M-F from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sat 10:00 am-6:00 pm. Sun.

Walgreen’s Pharmacy in Chestertown at the corner of Washington Ave. (Rt 213) and Morgnec Rd. (Rt. 291)

It’s also possible your family doctor can give you the inoculation. But the point is to get it. It takes about two weeks after the injection for the vaccine to become fully effective, so getting your shot before the flu season begins is important.

In fact, everyone older than six months should get a shot, unless they have a life-threatening allergy to the vaccine or one of its ingredients. A flu shot doesn’t just protect you — it also helps protect the community as a whole, a phenomenon called herd immunity. The more people who have immunity to this year’s virus, the less likely it is that a dangerous pandemic can get a foothold.

And make no mistake — flu can be a killer, especially to those in vulnerable segments of the population. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this group includes children under 5 years and adults over 50 years old; anyone with chronic pulmonary or cardiovascular disorders; pregnant women; residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities; American Indians; and anyone who is extremely obese. Family members and caregivers of those in the vulnerable categories should also be sure to get immunized so they don’t expose someone at high risk for complications to the disease.

Antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu are helpful in mitigating flu symptoms once a patient is infected with the virus, but they are not a substitute for the vaccination. Nor do they prevent the infected person from spreading the virus to others around them.

Kent County Health Department at 125 South Lynchburg Street in Chestertown.  Walk-in flu shot clinic on Thursday mornings 9-noon.

The Kent County Health Department also has numerous other services for individuals.  They have informational pamphlets in both English and Spanish on almost every health issue.

Flu clinic forms are available at the Health Department website or at the clinic. Call 410-778-1350 ext. 3 for more information.

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Affordable Care Act: One Young Cancer Patient in Maryland

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Presents sat unopened in her family’s Davidsonville house in April, while at Johns Hopkins Hospital her parents told her she had Ewing’s sarcoma, a cancerous tumor growing in her stomach. The disease is so rare that only about 225 children in the United States are diagnosed each year.

Ella Edwards, 9, holds the opening page of a story she is writing about her fight with cancer. Ella was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma on her birthday. Capital News Service photo by Aaron Rosa.

The Edwards family entered a new reality of oncologists and treatments.

“It was crazy fast,” Jen Edwards said. “We were taken up to oncology, and I was thinking, what are we doing here? There are kids with cancer here.

“At that point we weren’t even thinking of insurance.”

The Edwards family hadn’t been following the congressional debates over the repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.” But now they, like millions of other Americans, would have to deal with a pre-existing condition — which before the Affordable Care Act meant companies could refuse insurance.

Though Congress and the Trump Administration have tried — and failed — to repeal President Barack Obama’s healthcare law, these patients remain worried about their future.

“The ACA was something I never paid attention to,” Jen Edwards said. “You just assume your child is never going to get sick and be healthy all their lives.”

Brian Edwards runs Hague Quality Water, a water treatment company, owned by his father, that has been in his family over 20 years. He purchased health insurance for his children, which, he said, cost less than what he would have to pay through work.

A week before Ella’s birthday, a stomach flu hit the family, but Ella did not respond to the usual medications.

Ella Edwards walks into the room where she will receive the third of six proton radiotherapy treatments. Capital News Service photo by Aaron Rosa.

Doctors at Anne Arundel Medical Center found a grapefruit-sized tumor pressing against her bladder and transferred her immediately to Johns Hopkins University for further testing.

There, the doctors diagnosed the cancer. And two days after her parents took her to the hospital for what they thought was a stomach bug, Ella began receiving chemotherapy.

At Hopkins, Jen Edwards recalls, hospital administrators made a crucial discovery: Ella had been admitted through the emergency room. If Ella was discharged, Johns Hopkins would not readmit her because, though the emergency visit was covered, Hopkins did not accept her insurance for continuing treatment, a staff member confirmed.

They stopped the family from leaving. The administrators recommended that Brian Edwards purchase a new plan, under “Obamacare,” that would cover Ella’s future treatment — avoiding a bill of $80,000.

In a stroke of luck, Hague Quality Water was in a two-week period where the business could choose a new insurance provider for their employees. Brian Edwards switched his company’s coverage to Evergreen Health, a plan on the state health exchange that offered in-state health insurance for Ella’s condition.

Ella’s newly diagnosed cancer is included on a list of declinable conditions that would have caused her application for insurance to be automatically denied in all but five states before the health care law, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Evergreen Health’s monthly premium is $1,900, nearly 30 times the $66 premium he previously paid for insurance covering all his children — the policy from a company that Johns Hopkins would not accept.

“Even if you can’t pay the bills in that moment, you’re still going to do the treatment,” Jen Edwards said.

She leafed through a thick, worn binder filled with letters from doctors, scraps of paper with hastily jotted notes, and bills — dozens of bills.

Ella’s initial seven-day hospitalization topped $41,000, including $17,000 for room and board, and $20,000 for her first round of chemotherapy.

Four months of cancer treatments, visits with specialists, and hospitalizations racked up over $200,000. All but their $1,500 deductible was paid by their insurance company.

Before the Obama health care law, those costs led many families to bankruptcy.

A study conducted by Harvard University and published in the American Journal of Medicine in 2007 found that from 2001 to 2007, bankruptcies attributable to medical problems increased by 50 percent and comprised 67 percent of all bankruptcies in the United States.

Cost of life, a metric used to quantify one year of life with cancer treatment, rose from $54,100 in 1995, to $207,000 in 2013. This statistic does not include expenses like surgery or home care, nor does it account for the loss of income resulting from a chronic illness.

Brian and Jen Edwards held a different view of the health care law before Ella’s diagnosis. Back then, they viewed “Obamacare” as socialization of health care.

“For me, Ella’s cancer changed my perspective about the Affordable Care Act,” Jen Edwards said.

“Knowing some of these children that are also at Hopkins, I know their families can’t afford it,” she trails off. “Every child should get care.”

Jen Edwards has quit her job at a local church to care for Ella.

Brian Edwards supplements his work-provided policy with an additional policy to cover the more expensive drugs not covered by Evergreen.

The additional policy is income-based. With five children and a single income, the Edwards family qualifies for its insurance. But if Jen Edwards were to resume working and the family income increased, they would be ineligible.

But even with government subsidies, the Edwards family’s health insurance policies cost him over $2,500 a month.

“It’s overwhelming,” Brian Edwards said. “I don’t know how people do it without insurance.”

Ewing’s sarcoma has a good prognosis if it has not spread. Ella’s has spread to her lungs.

Ella has completed nine of 14 rounds of chemotherapy and is undergoing an eight-week proton radiotherapy treatment plan in lieu of a surgery that would have removed two of her vertebrae.

The family’s life is now shaped by cancer.

Ella and her siblings manned a lemonade stand on the side of a nearby road this summer to raise money for Ewing’s sarcoma research. The family visited Hershey Park. And Ella attended a special week-long camp sponsored by Johns Hopkins University Hospital and staffed by medical personnel.

What they did not do this summer was watch the healthcare debate on television.

Brian Edwards canceled their cable TV subscription. The Edwards children watch cartoons on Netflix.

“Nothing good comes from watching the news,” Brian Edwards said.
But the next wave of bad news didn’t come through the television. It came in the mail.

As a non-profit, Evergreen could no longer cover the costs of its clients, and in a final desperate measure, converted to a for-profit model and sought an outside investor.

Investors dropped out of the Evergreen acquisition deal this summer. In August, the Edwards family received a letter from Evergreen Health announcing that it would be going out of business, honoring existing contracts but closing its doors for good in 2018.

“We’ve been lucky to have coverage so far,” Brian Edwards said softly. “But with Evergreen going out of business, next year is going to be very different.”

Brian Edwards again switched his company’s insurance from Evergreen to Maryland Blue Cross Blue Shield.

His monthly premium increased by $400.

By Aaron Rosa

St. Martin’s Ministries – Lighting the Way

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Lighthouses by Dick Swanson displayed in his workshop. Both are included in the auction.

The 12th annual Arts Dinner Dance and Auction to benefit St. Martin’s Ministries (SMM) will be held Friday, Oct. 13 in the Chesapeake Room of Rock Hall firehouse. Works by more than two dozen artists will be available for bidding.

This year’s theme is “America the Beautiful, From Sea to Shining Sea.” To highlight the theme, this year’s featured artist, master wood craftsman Dick Swanson has created six replicas of classic lighthouses from all over the country. Each lighthouse, in addition to being a finely detailed work of art, contains several internal compartments suitable for storing jewelry, keys, or other small items. To get a preview of all six models, check out the front window of the Finishing Touch in Chestertown, where they will be on display until the day of the event.

Dick Swanson in his workshop shows book with photograph of the lighthouse that one of his is modeled on.

In addition to raising money for a very worthwhile charity, the dinner and auction is a lot of fun with good food, good conversation, and good art. The evening begins with cocktails and the silent auction at 6:00 pm.  As you stroll the Chesapeake Room in Rock Hall, you can examine the lighthouses up close along with the other works of art and decide what you might want to bid on. Maybe you’d prefer to bid on one of the glamorous get-aways for an exciting trip to the city or a relaxing weekend in the country.  Dinner is at 7:30 pm followed by dessert and a few after-dinner remarks by the staff and leaders of St Martin’s Ministries as they share stories of the work and progress in the past year.  Then the live auction will begin about 8:45 pm when you can defend your bid against your friends who would try to take home just the item you want the most – unless you can top their bid!  At 9:15, the dance begins with music by DJ Marc McCallum. His special program of musical selections entitled Dancing through the Decades provides both lively and romantic dancing to the oldies while it brings back all those memories!  At 10:00 pm, it’s time to check out and collect your winnings. It’s a lot of fun, and all in all, a wonderful evening.  Many people come back year after year.  Each year’s dinner has a different theme and a new featured artist. And all proceeds support St. Martin’s Ministries’ work with women and children. There is more information on St. Martin’s Ministries below.

Lighthouses shown in their original setting.

In addition to Swanson, contributing artists include Marjorie Aronson, Evie Baskin, Jayne Hurt Bellows, Paul Bramble, Robyn Burckhart, Nora Carey, John Carey, Laura Cline, David B. Giffort, Charlotte Guscht, Pegret Harrison, Lynn Hilfiker, Mary Averill James, Jonathan King, Marlayn King, David Lyon, Joyce Murrin, K. Chrisgtine O’Neill, David O’Neill, Mary Pritchard, Marcy Dunn Ramsey, Lani Seikaly, Lolli sherry, Linda Sims, Nancy R. Thomas and Dennis Young. While the emphasis is on beautiful and unique works of art, there are also other items available for bidding at the silent auction.

All the lighthouses are currently being displayed in the window of Finishing Touch on High Street in Chestertown, just across from Fountain Park.

Tickets for the SMM Arts Dinner and Auction are $110. To make reservations, go to the Mid-Shore Foundation’s website.  You can also make donations at the site to help SMM in their work with women and children and in the process become an official St. Martin’s Ministries Angel, Archangel, Seraphim, or you can join the Heavenly Chorus, each for various levels of donations.

Three of the six lighthouses that up for auction at the St. Martin’s Ministries’ arts Dinner and Auction on Friday, October 13.

Those who would like to bid on a lighthouse but cannot attend the dinner on Oct 13, can submit a bid by email to Anne Donaghy at Donaghy.Ja@gmail.com. Include the word LIGHTHOSE in the subject line of your email.  Then in the text, give your name, telephone, email address, and the name and number of the Lighthouse you’re bidding on, plus the amount of your bid. There is a minimum bid of $150 for a lighthouse. (So bid high if you can’t be there during the auction to raise your bid as needed!) A few days before the dinner, someone will call to verify your bid and request credit card information.  Should you win, you will be notified the next day. Credit cards will not be charged unless your bid wins. This information is also on a sign in the Finishing Touch window.

Saint Martin’s Ministries

Saint Martin’s Ministries began in 1973, when The Benedictine Sisters of Ridgely founded St. Martin’s Barn – an outreach ministry to Christ’s poor. The Barn provided food, clothing and limited funds for preventing evictions and electricity cutoffs. Ten years later, June, 1983, Saint Martin’s House became a reality – a transitional residence which seeks to empower homeless women and children to work towards self-sufficiency in a safe and stable environment.

Today Saint Martin’s House in Ridgely provides up to 2 years of transitional housing for single women and women with children. The program also provides appropriate support services to persons who are homeless or who are close to homelessness. The transition is to help them be more self-sufficient so they can move towards living on their own. The ministry also provides clothing, emergency food, eviction prevention assistance and utility assistance for those in need. St. Martin’s Ministries administers the Rental Assistance program for Caroline County.

For example, in one recent year, SMM reported that the residences had housed 29 persons, 15 women and 14 children.  They came from all over the Mid-Shore.  This amounted to 7,368 bed-nights valued at $92, 100.  In another year, SMM housed 14 women and 44 children for a total 4,685 bed-nights.  With careful administration and efficient volunteers, the cost per person has run around $40 per day.

The St. Martin’s Barn program provides emergency food and clothing. In one year, they distributed 3, 672 food packages, averaging over 300 per month.  The same year, SMM provided over $100,00 to save 171 families from eviction.

In order to keep these services going – to help more women and children –  SMM runs several other fund raisers in addition to the annual Arts Dinner and Auction,. They just finished their 2nd annual golf tournament and also hold an Authors’ Luncheon in the spring.  SMM has been awarded over $150,000 in government grants.  Altogether, St. Martin’s Ministries has been a life-changing and life-saving influence in the lives of hundreds of women and children over the years.

SMM is a non-profit 501(c)(3) charitable organization. All donations are tax-deductible as allowed by law.

You can be a part of this.

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Get Into Mental Health

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Mental Health Awareness Week is Oct. 1-7, 2017. Each year, the first full week in October provides an opportunity to fight stigma, provide support, educate the public, and advocate for equal care.

One in five adults experiences mental illness problems every year, and 50 percent of chronic mental illness begins by age 14. Although many people today understand that mental illness is a medical condition, individuals and families affected by mental illness are still often subjected to stigma and discrimination.

This year the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is calling on everyone to get “Into Mental Health” and replace stigma with hope.

Locally, NAMI Kent & Queen Anne’s (the newest affiliate of NAMI Maryland) is now offering the NAMI Family Support Group program on the first and third Monday in Centreville, and the first and third Tuesday in Chestertown, from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

In addition, as part of Mental Health Awareness week, National Depression Screening Day will be held Thursday Oct. 5. Organizations around the world are encouraged to offer free, anonymous questionnaires that can help individuals identify potential signs of depression. Learn more at www.mentalhealthscreening.org/programs/ndsd.

“We are calling on everyone to join NAMI and replace stigma with hope by pledging to be #stigmaFree,” said Lainie Surette, steering committee co-chair of NAMI Kent & Queen Anne’s.

To take the #StignaFree pledge, visit www.NAMI.org/stigmafree. NAMI offers information about mental illness conditions, symptoms and treatment at www.NAMI.org or through its HelpLine at (800) 550-NAMI (6264).

For more information about the Kent and Queen Anne’s Support Groups call (443)480-0565.

To Counter Opioid Epidemic Leads State Panel to Revisit “Recovery Schools

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A fire led to the eventual end of Phoenix — a groundbreaking Maryland public school program for children with addiction that closed in 2012 — but the state could see institutions like it rise again from the ashes.

Recent spikes in the Maryland heroin and opioid epidemic have triggered calls for substantial changes in education systems statewide, and a state work group is weighing the return of recovery schools after a Sept. 7 meeting.

For Kevin Burnes, 47, of Gaithersburg, Maryland, attending a recovery school separate from his hometown high school was life-changing.

Burnes said in a public letter that he began to experiment with drugs and alcohol at age 10, and his addiction to alcohol quickly escalated to PCP. He found himself homeless and was admitted into a psychiatric institute, he wrote.

However, after finding Phoenix, a recovery program for secondary school students with addiction, and attending for two years, his whole life turned around.

“What I can tell you is that this program undeniably saved my life,” said Burnes, now a full-time musician living in Frederick, Maryland. “The largest part of Phoenix’s success was due to the fact that everyone was involved. It was a community effort. It’s a community issue.”

State legislation that passed this year — known as the Start Talking Maryland Act — came into effect in July and directed schools in Maryland to take precautionary measures against opioid exposure and abuse. It also established the work group.

The panel is charged with evaluating and developing behavioral and substance abuse disorder programs and reporting their findings to the General Assembly, according to a state fiscal analysis.

The legislation additionally requires:

–To store naloxone in schools and train school personnel in the drug’s administration
–Public schools to expand existing programs to include drug addiction and prevention education
–Local boards of education or health departments to hire a county or regional community action official to develop these programs
–The governor to include $3 million in the fiscal 2019 budget for the Maryland State Department of Education for these policies
–Schools of higher education that receive state funding to establish these similar policies and instruction in substance use disorders in certain institutions

The Phoenix program and similar secondary schools that followed it were created specifically for students in recovery from substance use disorder or dependency, according to the Association of Recovery Schools.

“What we’ve known anecdotally for a while, we are starting to finally see with data. These high schools have positive effects on preventing and reducing adolescent alcohol and drug use as well as supporting the abstinence of kids post-treatment and seeing a positive impact on academics,” Dr. Andrew Finch, Vanderbilt University researcher and co-founder of the Association of Recovery Schools told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service.

The first of its kind in the United States, the original Phoenix I school opened in 1979 as an alternative program in Montgomery County, Maryland, that provided both an education and a positive peer culture centered on recovery. Phoenix II followed, also in Montgomery County.

Since then, about 40 schools have opened nationwide, according to Finch, but none remain in the state of Maryland.

“It was amazing the support that the students gave to each other. We would have weekly community meetings where they would praise each other for their commitment, but if they weren’t working toward sobriety these kids were the first ones to rat on each other,” Izzy Kovach, a former Phoenix teacher told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service. “It was a real sense of family…”

Critical to the Phoenix schools were outdoor challenges, said Mike Bucci, a former Phoenix teacher for 20 years, in a report. Along with regular days of classes and support groups, students would go from climbing 930-foot sandstone cliffs at Seneca Rocks, West Virginia, to biking the 184-mile length of the C&O Canal to sailing the waters of the Chesapeake Bay.

“These trips helped form lifelong bonds along with an ‘I can’ attitude,” Bucci wrote.

The Phoenix schools at their largest enrolled about 50 students each at a time, according to a state report.

After years of successful work, the Phoenix schools began to lose their spark. Tragedy struck in 2001 when the Phoenix II school burned down.

However, instead of remaining a standalone recovery school, Phoenix II continued on as an in-school program, and eventually Phoenix I followed, according to Kovach.

“The program lost its validity with this model (with students back in traditional high schools). The students knew it, the parents knew it, and eventually key staff left because they also saw it was ineffective,” Kovach said.

Eventually, enrollment dwindled down to only three students and the Phoenix program closed its doors in 2012, according to a report compiled by a community advocacy group Phoenix Rising: Maryland Recovery School Advocates.

Five years later, with the rise in drug use throughout the state, talk of bringing back recovery school programs have reemerged.

“Whenever you have a program where there aren’t many of them, like recovery schools, people just don’t don’t think of them as an option. But, it is slowly changing and it’s even starting to be picked up by the media,” Finch said.

The epidemic is gathering attention and resources in Maryland — Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency from March 1 to April 30 and committed an additional $50 million over five years to help with prevention.

From 2014 to 2017, the number of opioid-related deaths reported in Maryland between Jan. 1 and March 31 more than doubled — taking the death toll up to 473, according to state health department data. Since then, the work group has begun to look at these numbers and is beginning to discuss various models for these new recovery programs.

Lisa Lowe, director of the Heroin Action Coalition advocacy group, said she fears that the work group will not be able to understand how to move in the right direction without having students, parents or teachers with lived experience contributing.

“Instead of just guessing what’s going to work, why not ask the people who are living it?” Lowe said.

The work group has considered either creating a regional recovery school or bringing the recovery programs into already existing schools — both models in which Burnes, Lowe and many others are not in favor.

Lowe said students in recovery need to get away from “people, places and things,” a common phrase that is used in 12-step programs. With a regional school or an in-school program, Lowe said, it is more difficult to maintain after-school programming and local peer support groups, and it will bring recovering students back to where their problems started.

The start-up costs for Year 1 for one recovery school are estimated to range from approximately $2,258,891 to $2,473,891 depending on whether the school is operated only for Montgomery County students or as a regional recovery school, and again should enroll about 50 students age 14 through 21 years (or Grades 8 through 12), according to a state report.

“The overdoses are not occurring as much at the high school level, but that’s where they start. They start in high school and they start in middle school. We have to get the program in place so that we don’t have the deaths later on,” said Kovach, the former Phoenix teacher.

Rachelle Gardner, the co-founder of Hope Academy, a recovery charter high school in Indiana, said that these recovery schools are needed all over the country to help battle this substance abuse crisis.

“Addiction is addiction, when you walk into a 12-step meeting you’re in a room of addicts. You have to treat the addict in itself and we have to meet everybody where they’re at regardless of their drug of choice,” Gardner said.

The workgroup is continuing to develop their ideas for recovery schools and are expected to present their findings to the State Board of Education on Oct. 24.

By Georgia Slater