News Coverage

Skillfully serving seniors (The Daily Record)

I had the pleasure of volunteering Saturday at the 26th annual Law Day for Seniors, organized by Senior Legal Services. The free event was held at a Baltimore City District Court and was attended by more than 300 Baltimore city seniors.

The conference-style programming included seminars on issues such as financial scams targeting seniors, combating nursing home abuse, Baltimore city tax sales and water bill issues and estate administration. Attendees were provided with breakfast and lunch at no charge. 

The courthouse corridors were packed with various vendors and city agencies, like the Department of Public Works, the Health Department’s Division of Aging and the sheriff’s office. Other pro bono groups, such as Maryland Legal Aid and Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, also were involved.

 Volunteer attorneys and judges made up the panels in the numerous substantive law sessions. I was amazed at how patiently they discussed current challenges facing the elderly in Baltimore and educated the underserved population at risk of losing very basic resources. I was unaware of some of the issues faced by low-income city residents such as tax sales and inaccurate water bills and the predatory liens that go along with non-payment.

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Violence Seen as Public Health Issue at Conference (The Daily Iowan)

A panel of experts discussed their views on violence as a public-health issue.

Violence and health were brought together in a conversation Tuesday night.

Dozens of people piled inside Callahan Auditorium in the University of Iowa College of Public Health Building to hold a discussion on solutions related to violence. Iowa Public Radio host Ben Kieffer moderated the event.

Special guest Leana Wen, the Baltimore health commissioner and the UI College of Public Health’s Hansen Award recipient, spoke about her study and experiences. The panel also consisted of three others who study violence in relation to public health.

Kieffer started the conversation by highlighting the increase in gun violence in Iowa in the past few years. According to the Center for American Progress, 1,976 people were killed by guns in Iowa from 2001 to 2010.

Wen then shared her experiences with violence as a health professional in Baltimore.

“As an emergency physician, I have to say unequivocally that violence is a health issue,” she said.

She said it is scientifically proven that violence is a contagious disease. It spreads from person to person, and there are ways to prevent and cure it.

To address the issue of violence, she said, we also have to address the issue of trauma, which brings in the ideas of both mental health and systemic hierarchy seen in Baltimore.

Wen also stated that many people believe violence is primarily a law enforcement and public safety issue. While she said that in some ways this is true, people can also see the way violence takes over one’s mental state, specifically referencing the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death. Gray was an unarmed black man who died in police custody in 2015, she noted.

“Public safety, though, has to work hand in hand with public health,” she said.

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Fighting opioid addiction by making the antidote available to all (WVRO Radio – Take Care)

The opioid epidemic has torn apart communities across the country. One city has decided to take what some might call extraordinary measures to help fight fatal overdoses and save lives. Baltimore now has a program that makes the fast-acting opioid antidote naloxone, or Narcan, available to every resident in the city.

This week on WRVO's health and wellness show "Take Care," hosts Lorraine Rapp and Linda Lowen speak with Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore's health commissioner and an emergency medicine physician, about why she feels the problem of heroin addiction makes this program necessary.

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Painkillers: prescription or affliction? (WVRO Radio – Take Care)

When a water heater fell on him one fateful day at work, John Dias’ life was forever changed. He awoke in the hospital, partially paralyzed, and when he left, he had a prescription for OxyContin. But like so many others, his prescription became his affliction, resulting in a severe addiction and eventual overdoses.

In recent years, this occurrence has become all too common, leading to the development of the antidote naloxone – the very medicine which revived Dias on two separate occasions. To find out more about his story, “Take Care” spoke with Dias, who opened up about his experience and the importance of naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan.

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Were it not for Narcan, Dias says he would have died. Since its development, it has saved countless lives, but not everyone is so lucky. In fact, Dias says his own brother might still be alive had there been Narcan available at the time of his overdose. But unfortunately, says Dias, there wasn’t.

As the number of overdoses continues to soar, accessibility to Narcan is becoming increasingly important. Those in the public health sector, like Baltimore Health Commissioner, Dr. Leana Wen, are pushing for Narcan training in their cities, to reduce the number of lives cut short as a result of drug abuse. Addiction is a disease, but through proper education, training, and availability to Narcan, health officials hope to prevent people from overdosing and revive those who do.

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A blanket prescription: How one community is combating opioid and heroin overdose (WVRO Radio – Take Care)

In recent years, the United States has seen an alarming spike in opioid overdoses. From prescription painkillers to street drugs like heroin, opioid abuse has led to widespread addiction and all too often, death. Today, development of the counterdrug Narcan is serving to combat the growing problem and save the lives of those affected.

To find out more about this epidemic and what’s being done about it, “Take Care” spoke with emergency medicine physician and Baltimore Health Commissioner, Dr. Leana Wen.

Opioids, Wen explains, are derived from the opium found in poppies. Heroin, for example – an illegal, schedule I narcotic -- is an opioid. But you can also find opioids behind the pharmacy counter, in prescription drugs such as Oxycodone, OxyContin, Percocet, and morphine. And despite their legality, these drugs have similar effects to heroin, including euphoria … and addiction. Prescription painkillers are meant to treat severe pain, but when abused, yield disastrous results.

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Drug-related deaths overburden Maryland medical examiner's office (Baltimore Sun)

The opioid epidemic that has claimed so many lives in Maryland is overwhelming the state medical examiner's office.

The agency has exceeded national caseload standards — the number of autopsies a single pathologist should perform in a year — in each of the past four years. The office now risks losing its accreditation.

"Everyone continues to add on work hours and work faster and hopefully not take short cuts," said Dr. David R. Fowler, Maryland's chief medical examiner. "They absorb this extra load. But there is a point where they can't continue to add to that and expect the system will function."

The challenge is not limited to Maryland. The combination of additional and more complex cases is overwhelming medical examiners' offices across the country, particularly along the East Coast, leaving many on the verge of losing accreditation.

"We view this as a national crisis," said Dr. Brian L. Peterson, president of the National Association of Medical Examiners.

The association categorizes the Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, traditionally well regarded by peers, as "deficient." It will re-evaluate the Baltimore-based agency in May.

The office can continue to operate without accreditation. But the association warns that performing too many autopsies can jeopardize quality and undermine confidence in the results.

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Officials see a spike in sleep-related infant deaths in Baltimore City (WMAR)

Baltimore City is experiencing a spike in sleep-related infant deaths.

In the first few months of this year, there have been six sleep-related infant deaths.

The increase comes as a surprise to city health officials who saw record-low numbers in the past several years.

“Between 2009 and 2016 we have had an unprecedented nearly 40 percent drop in infant mortality,” said Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen.

In 2009, 27 babies died in their sleep compared to 2015 where 13 babies passed.

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Baltimore sees uptick in sleep-related deaths of infants (Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore City health officials have announced a spike in deaths among newborns related to unsafe sleeping arrangements and urged parents to follow professional medical advice about how to put their infants to bed safely.

There were six suspected cases of sleep-related death in the first three months of the year, compared with seven suspected cases in all of 2016, based on preliminary data from the state medical examiner’s office. The sleep-related deaths had been on the decline for years and were the result of a campaign called B’more for Healthy Babies to educate parents about putting their babies to sleep alone and on their backs in a crib.

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Treat opioid addiction with resources, not rhetoric (Op-ed CNN)

Little is known about the Trump administration's plan to end this public health epidemic of opioid abuse, apart from the creation of a Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. So far, the White House has only said that the commission will produce a report and look for federal funding mechanisms.

But that is not nearly enough.

At a time when opioid overdose deaths kill tens of thousands of Americans every year -- including more than 33,000 in 2015 -- we do not have the luxury of giving this commission months to rehash facts that experts, including the surgeon general and coalitions of doctors and public health experts, already agree upon.

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Dr. Leana Wen: Maryland Makes Progress in Treating Addiction as a Disease (Opinion) (Center Maryland)

The opioid epidemic has ravaged families and communities across Maryland, claiming thousands of lives every year. In 2015, there were 1259 drug- and alcohol-related intoxication deaths. That number rose to 1,468 deaths on only the first nine months of 2016, according to the most recently available data.

Addiction and overdose are undoubtedly health issues, but for years, our efforts to curb drug use focused solely on the criminal justice side of the equation. As the heartbreaking numbers indicate, that alone is not enough. We must do more to save lives, improve access to on-demand treatment, and eliminate stigma about the disease. Only then will we be able to fully address this health crisis.

Read the entire op-ed.

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