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

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.

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