Dr. Leana Wen: Remove Red Tape to Save Lives (Daily Record)

Dr. Leana Wen: Remove Red Tape to Save Lives 

As originally appeared in The Daily Record 

The opioid epidemic continues to ravage Maryland, killing more residents every year than traffic accidents. We are in the midst of a public health emergency.

Across the state, nearly 1500 people lost their lives to drug or alcohol overdose in the first nine months of 2016. The powerful opioid known as fentanyl are driving these high rates; in Baltimore City, fatal overdoses involving the drug have increased 20-times in the least three years.

These deaths are especially tragic because there is one medication— naloxone— that is a complete antidote to an opioid overdose. As an emergency physician, I have used the medication hundreds of times and have seen firsthand that it can bring someone on the verge of death back to life in seconds. Naloxone is safe, with virtually no side effects if given to someone who is not on opioids. It is easy to administer, with two versions, one that’s a nasal spray and one that’s given like an Epi-Pen.

Naloxone gives everyone the power to save a life. And in Baltimore, it has.

Since I started as Baltimore City’s Health Commissioner in January 2015, we have trained more than 20,000 people to use the medication. Over the same period, naloxone has been used to save more than 800 lives. This statistic does not include the countless others saved by nurses, doctors, EMTs, and police officers whose sworn duty it is to serve the public. These 800 lives were saved by everyday Baltimoreans.

Here, neighbors are saving fellow neighbors.

To make this possible, we had to improve access to naloxone. Previously, if someone wanted access to naloxone so that they could save the life of a family member or friend, they needed to attend a training, visit their doctor, figure out their insurance, then go to a pharmacy to fill the prescription. This created significant barriers, especially to those who lack access to regular transportation or healthcare. We advocated for a new law to allow for a standing order for naloxone. The law passed, and in October 2015, I wrote a blanket prescription for naloxone to the city’s 620,000 residents. This means anyone who goes through training can, then and there, receive a prescription and the medication to immediately save life.

Unfortunately, a significant barrier still remains; a person must complete training before receiving a naloxone. While the training itself takes only a few minutes, the current law creates a burdensome paperwork requirement that takes away from our community educators’ ability to reach more residents with the life-saving medication. This is particularly true in the “hotspot” areas we target, which includes street corners, bus shelters, public markets, and other places with limited space.

In this time of public health emergency, we need every tool to eliminate every barrier. That's why we support this year’s bipartisan legislation currently in the Maryland’s General Assembly: HB 791/SB 868. This bill makes it possible for a person to receive naloxone under a standing order without having to complete unnecessary paperwork.

To be clear, training to use naloxone will still be available for anyone who wants it -- both online and in person. But, just as defibrillators are available in public shopping centers, airports and grocery stores, so should naloxone. In an emergency, you shouldn’t have to prove you have training in order to save lives.

Passing this legislation would essentially make naloxone over-the-counter. This is a best practice already adopted by neighboring states in Virginia and Pennsylvania, among others.

To be sure, naloxone alone is not the answer. We must also advocate for increased long-term treatment for individuals with substance use disorders. But if we cannot save a life from overdose today, there is no chance for a person to enter recovery and lead a healthier life tomorrow. Treatment works and recovery is possible. Naloxone gives those suffering from addiction that opportunity.

The opioid epidemic is claiming the lives of thousands of fellow Marylanders every year. Expanding access to naloxone is one concrete step we can take, and I encourage our legislators in Annapolis to support HB 791/SB 868 to empower every resident to save lives.

Dr. Leana Wen is the commissioner of health in Baltimore City. Twitter: @DrLeanaWen and @BMore_Healthy.

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City braces for overdoses after pain clinic shut down (WBAL TV11)

BALTIMORE —Authorities have shut down a pain clinic in north Baltimore after police raided it this week. 

Offices of the Westside Medical Group in the 4400 block of Falls Road were closed Thursday. People who went to the door of the clinic Thursday afternoon found a notice that said, "The office of Dr. Kofi Shaw-Taylor is closed." The notice had phone numbers to call for help, including the Maryland Crisis Hotline, (800-422-0009), and the Baltimore City Health Department.

The Health Department issued a warning Tuesday after federal, state and local law enforcement shut down the clinic. 

"We sent out the alert in order to let our partners in law enforcement, in emergency departments, fire departments and EMS and other outreach workers know that there may be an increase in overdoses that are occurring," Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen said.

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N Baltimore pain clinic raided by the Feds, city health department says overdoses could spike (ABC2 NEWS)

BALTIMORE - A spokesperson for the DEA tells ABC 2 News a task force made up of federal and local agencies raided Dr. Kofi Shaw-Taylor's offices on Falls Road Tuesday morning, calling it a pain management clinic.

 The doors are locked, and there's a sign out front letting people know the practice is closed.  We don't have many details about the investigation into Shaw-Taylor, but the Maryland Attorney General's office says the Annapolis man was charged with Medicaid fraud.

"I was shocked to hear about this,” one patient said.

The woman says she's been coming to the clinic for the past year to get Suboxone, a narcotic used to treat opioid addiction.  It’s unclear how many people were being treated by Shaw-Taylor, however now they're all scrambling to find a new doctor and get new prescriptions.

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