Two former Maryland state lawmakers are teaming up to fight the opioid epidemic.
Former Republican Del. Mathew J Mossburg, whose own battle with drug addiction has come to define his post-legislative career, and former House majority leader John A. Hurson (D), a public health expert, are working with the Give America Hope foundation, its wealthy benefactor, Frederick County businessman Charlie Seymour, and several academics and scientists to devise a program that would minimize an addict’s chance of relapse.
The group is scheduled to debut a model of its program, called the Risk Assessment Monitoring System (RAMS), which is still in the early stages of development, at the Women in Government Healthcare and Technology Summit next week in Washington, D.C.
“This is all about improving outcomes,” Mossburg said in an interview.
Mossburg’s own journey – from legislator in the mid- and late 1990s, to addict, to homelessness to crusader for a better strategy to combat opioid addiction – has been well told over the past few years. Mossburg, who has been sober since Jan. 7, 2014, launched but soon abandoned a political comeback bid in 2017.
But along the way, he met Charlie Seymour, a real estate developer who encouraged Mossburg’s political ambitions and then pledged to collaborate with him on his anti-opioid work.
Mossburg is now strategic development director with the Give America Hope foundation, and while consulting with state and local governments on developing opioid treatment plans, has also worked with scientists at the University of North Carolina to devise a strategy to minimize the chance of addicts relapsing after their first 30-day treatment.
Quite simply, RAMS is designed to create an algorithm that would determine how vulnerable an addict is to relapse. The formula takes several data points into consideration – including a recovering addict’s family and home life, physical health, educational background, employment situation, and access to housing and transportation. Within each demographic group, the answers to these questions help calculate the risk of a relapse.
“You can get a snapshot of what they have in their life and what they don’t have in their life,” Mossburg said.
Mossburg and Hurson said the algorithm depends on sample sets of about 300 to 400 ex-addicts to create a database of risks and pressure points. The data can help devise a course of action to prevent relapse, rather than taking a cookie-cutter approach that may be ineffective given the diversity of individuals addicted to opioids.
“This is a system that can be a predictive model on relapse,” Hurson added.
Foundation leaders have worked with two University of North Carolina professors and data experts, Patrick J. Curran and Daniel J. Bauer, who run a psychometric laboratory in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, to develop RAMS.
The foundation is hoping to sell the idea to a state or local government to run a pilot program tracking the progress of opioid addicts after their treatment. If pilots prove successful, the foundation hopes to promote the plan more widely.
“There are very specific models for dealing with very specific populations,” Mossburg said.
Hurson left the legislature in 2005, after stints as House majority leader and chairman of the House Health and Government Operations Committee – and as president of the National Conference of State Legislatures. He later chaired the Maryland Community Health Resources Commission while working as a vice president in Washington, D.C., for the Personal Care Products Council.
Recently retired from his D.C. lobbying job, Hurson is working pro bono for the Give America Hope Foundation. Although they were polar opposites politically, Hurson and Mossburg became good friends in Annapolis, and Hurson encouraged Mossburg to get back into the policy arena after his last round of treatment for opioid abuse.
Both former lawmakers say every level of government is struggling to confront the opioid crisis.
“There’s a lot of money being spent on that, at the federal level and at the state level, and it’s something that’s got to be spent effectively,” Hurson said.
A major challenge, the former lawmakers said, is that 80 percent of opioid addicts relapse after their initial 30-day treatment. That’s what makes “the predictive model” and the ability to track risk factors for ex-addicts “so important,” Hurson said.
Mossburg, after abandoning bids for Congress and state Senate in the last election cycle, remarried and relocated to Palm Beach County, Fla., recently. He is now serving on an opioid treatment commission there, working with the county government’s drug czar, John Hulick, who previously held a similar position with the state of New Jersey under former Gov. Chris Christie (R).
Mossburg said Seymour’s interest in confronting opioid addiction stems in part from his friendship with another former Maryland legislator, David R. Brinkley, who currently serves as Budget secretary for Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R). Seymour was godfather to Ross Brinkley, David Brinkley’s son, who died earlier this year at the age of 24 following a long struggle with drug addiction.
The team from the Give America Hope foundation will make a presentation at the Women in Government Healthcare and Technology Summit next week. Beyond touting the potential for the data system they’ve created, their message to the women policymakers, Hurson said, will be simple: “Everybody needs to be part of this solution.”