Note from the Commissioner: Innovative Efforts in Baltimore to Combat the Opioid Epidemic

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Note From The Commissioner: Proud to Serve Baltimore

Four years ago, I was given the incredible opportunity to serve as the Baltimore City Health Commissioner. It was my dream job, and I have been so proud to work with the women and men at the Health Department on the frontlines of public health. Through the leadership of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Mayor Catherine E. Pugh and with the help of partners across the City, we have made significant strides in improving health and combatting disparity

Note From The Commissioner: Sharing the Principles that Guide Our Work

Park School

This week, I had the honor of visiting the Park School of Baltimore as their 2017-2018 Resident Scholar. Each year for more than 30 years, the Park School Parents’ Association invites a Resident Scholar to address the Upper School student body. Leaders from the fields of science, politics, music, and literature – including Ta-Nehisi Coates and April Ryan – have visited the Park School as Scholars. 

Note From The Commissioner: Congressional Black Caucus Panel

Congressional Black Caucus

At last week’s Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference, Congressman Elijah E. Cummings invited me to serve as the moderator for his panel on opioids and communities of color. I was honored to host a discussion that featured statements from Congressman Cummings and Senator Elizabeth Warren, along with Mr. Cyril Scovens from Mi Casa Es Su Casa, Dr. Barbara DiPietro from Health Care for the Homeless, Dr. Aliya Jones from Bon Secours Hospital, and Dr. Scott Nolen from Open Society Institute – Baltimore.

This week, leaders, healthcare professionals, and other frontline workers from across the U.S. came to Baltimore for the National Conference on Addiction Disorders to learn more about our innovative efforts to combat the opioid epidemic.

The reality in Baltimore and across the country is that we need a national state of emergency to ensure that those of us on the ground have the support and resources we need to prevent the opioid crisis from worsening. This must go beyond rhetoric. We need resources behind this declaration.

Baltimore City has been on the cutting edge of addressing the opioid epidemic with our three-pronged strategy, which I also discussed yesterday with Deputy Assistant Secretary Kana Enomoto and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service’s Administration’s leadership at a meeting of their National Advisory Council. Over the past two years, Baltimore City’s blanket prescription for naloxone, accompanied by targeted outreach efforts, has resulted in more than 1,100 lives saved by everyday residents. Unfortunately, we have had to ration our limited supply of this antidote due to lack of funding. We know that we can save more lives. We need the funding to do so.

This week, we joined Mayor Catherine E. Pugh to officially announce one of the groundbreaking efforts that BCHD has implemented through the TECHealth program. BCHD identified the seven most pressing public health challenges in Baltimore, then recruited teams of engineers, designers, coders, and community members to develop targeted solutions with us. We are excited to partner with Code in the Schools and have student participants come up with an app to help us to spread the word about preventing fatal overdoses.

I end this week’s letter on a somber note. Our work in public health is to serve every person with dignity, humanity, and compassion. There is no room for bigotry, discrimination, or racism. We must all stand together to condemn the devastating and tragic display of hatred in Charlottesville. And we applaud the swift and decisive actions taken by Mayor Pugh to remove the symbols of oppression and racism in our City. As Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel reminds us:

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Let us never fail to speak up, speak out, and advocate for peace, justice, and equality.


Leana S. Wen, M.D., M.Sc.