Note From The Commissioner: Standing in Support of the CARE Act

Opioid Roundtable

Last Friday, I had the honor of moderating a panel discussion on the Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency (CARE) Act introduced by Representative Elijah Cummings and Senator Elizabeth Warren. Congressman Cummings and Senator Warren were on the panel, along with Senator Ben Cardin, Representative John Sarbanes, Mayor Pugh, and several of our community partners, including hospitals, direct service providers, and individuals in recovery. The CARE Act—modeled after the Ryan White Act for HIV/AIDS—was introduced this year by Representative Cummings and Senator Warren.

The State of Maryland released new data for overdose deaths last week. In 2017, there were 2,282 total overdose deaths in our state; 761 of them occurred in Baltimore City, and 573 of those deaths involved fentanyl. In 2013, 12 deaths involved fentanyl. This means that we have experienced a 5,000 percent increase in just four years. The overdose numbers we’re seeing are terrifying and frustrating. They are terrifying because they keep on increasing, and this isn’t even the peak of the epidemic. They are frustrating because those of us on the frontlines know what works to stop this epidemic.

Here in Baltimore, everyday residents have used the opioid antidote, naloxone, to save 1,130 lives in 2017 alone. However, we are having to ration this life-saving drug. Every week, I have to decide who will get naloxone, and who will go without. Does it make sense that we’re rationing a life-saving antidote in the middle of a public health emergency?

Under Mayor Pugh’s leadership, we’ve focused on treating addiction as the disease that it is by establishing a Stabilization Center and working to ensure that all hospitals have standardized Levels of Care for addiction treatment, among other initiatives. Our many partners in the community do exceptional work on a shoestring budget. Imagine how many more lives we could save if only we had the resources to do so.

This is why we in Baltimore stand in strong support of the CARE Act. It will provide us sustained funding, proportional to the severity of the epidemic, directly to local jurisdictions like ours that are hardest hit. This is what those of us on the frontlines have been asking for. I thank our partners at Healthcare for the Homeless for hosting the panel discussion last week, and the many other leaders across the City and our elected officials who stand in strong support of this critical legislation.

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

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