Note From the Commissioner: International Overdose Awareness Day

Last Friday marked International Overdose Awareness Day. More Americans are dying of overdose each year than have ever been killed from car accidents, guns, or HIV/AIDS. In Baltimore, we commemorate the 761 lives lost to overdose in 2017 and we will continue to call on state and national leaders to provide additional resources to end this public health crisis.

At the Baltimore City Health Department, we are aggressively addressing the challenge posed by drug overdose with our three-pillared strategy. First, we are saving lives by expanding access to naloxone. To date, the roughly 43,000 Baltimore residents trained to administer naloxone have saved the lives of more than 2,800 individuals. This initiative is increasingly important as fentanyl-related deaths in the City have increased by 5,000% since 2013.

Our second pillar focuses on expanding access to opioid addiction treatment, including medication-assisted treatment, psychosocial support, and wrap-around services. We are proud to host the state’s first stabilization center, which provides patients with medical screenings and referrals to treatment, here in Baltimore. Finally, to reduce stigma and prevent addiction with education, our third pillar seeks to share the science that addiction is a disease requiring treatment. The City’s Don’t Die campaign encourages individuals to seek treatment and helps people realize that recovery is possible.

Our comprehensive three pillar approach to combatting overdose deaths is limited only by our lack of sufficient resources. The Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency (CARE) Act, introduced by Senator Elizabeth Warren and Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, would deliver sustained funding to address addiction and overdose. In part, the CARE Act would prevent health departments like ours from having to ration naloxone because of its high cost.

The good news is that we know what works, and we are providing essential services to our fellow Baltimoreans to prevent overdose and treat addiction. Thank you for your work in advance of this aim, and I promise that I will continue to advocate on behalf of our City and the members of our families and communities that are affected by overdose. 

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

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