Commissioner Wen Testifies before U.S. Senate HELP Committee on Baltimore City’s Efforts to End Nation’s Opioid Epidemic

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WASHINGTON, D.C. (December 8, 2015)– Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen testified Tuesday before the United States Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) to offer her perspective on the opioid epidemic affecting millions across the country, and to propose suggestions to improve federal policies to combat and ultimately end opioid use disorders abuse and overdose.

“As an ER doctor, I have seen the devastation of heroin addiction firsthand, and as Baltimore City’s doctor, I have seen how heroin ties into the very fabric of our communities,” said Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen. “That is why I have declared opioid addiction a public health emergency in our city. Baltimore has been fighting the heroin epidemic for years, and we are glad to share our innovative, evidence-based approaches with our federal partners and further collaborate to heal our nation.”

In October 2014, Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake convened the Heroin Treatment and Prevention Task Force to address the critical problem of opioid addiction in Baltimore City. The Task Force engaged dozens of key stakeholders and partners to study the best practices, and in July 2015, the Task Force issued a report to guide the work of Baltimore City to prevent overdose, improve access to treatment, and reduce substance abuse.

Since issuing the report, Dr. Wen has declared opioid overdose a public health emergency and has directed the Baltimore City Health Department (BCHD) and its partners to begin implementing a citywide plan that focuses on saving lives.

As part of her testimony, Dr. Wen shared Baltimore City Health Department’s “3-Pillars” of Combatting Opioid Addiction:

1. Preventing deaths from overdose and save lives:

In one of the most aggressive opioid overdose prevention campaigns across the country, Dr. Wen has taken a number of steps to expand access to the opioid overdose antidote, naloxone to those at-risk of experiencing an opioid overdose in Baltimore City, including:

  • Issuing a “Standing Order” approved by the Maryland State Legislature in October 2015 enabling Dr. Wen to prescribe naloxone for all of Baltimore City’s 620,000 residents, so that any resident that receives training can procure the medication from their local pharmacist; and
  • Leading a citywide effort to expand the use of naloxone, training more than 7,000 residents this year, including in public markets, in drug court, and with police officers. In the first month of carrying naloxone, four officers have used naloxone to save the lives of our citizens.

2. Increase access to on-demand treatment and long-term recovery support:

Nationwide, only 11 percent of patients with addiction get the treatment they need. Understanding that stopping overdose is only the first step in addressing addiction, Baltimore City has taken several actions to expand adequate access to on-demand treatment, including:

  • Launching a 24/7 Crisis, Information, and Referral (CI&R) phone line that offers immediate access to trained professionals regarding substance use and mental health crisis calls, services, and treatment information. In its second month, the CI&R line has already fielded nearly 1,000 calls each week for services and referral to appointments;
  • Acquiring $3.6 million in funding to build a community-based Stabilization Center that will offer a more effective way to address public intoxication by mitigating the nuisance and reducing harm while offering direct services, such as: medical screening and monitoring, a bed, hydration, food, clothing and showers, referrals to treatment, and case management services; and
  • Expanding hiring of community-based peer recovery specialists; and universal screening hospitals for addiction in our hospitals. These actions are designed to help Baltimore work towards establishing treatment on demand, including a 24/7 "Urgent Care" for addiction and mental health disorders and increased case management and diversion programs.

3. Provide education to reduce stigma and prevent addiction:

In coordination with partners, the Baltimore City Health Department has launched two public education campaigns: “DontDie.org” and “Bmore in Control” designed to educate the public and providers on the disease of addiction and how communities must work more closely together play a role in preventing addiction and saving lives.

Additionally, BCHD has targeted educational efforts to physicians and other prescribers across Baltimore to implement citywide best practices for opioid prescribing. Nationwide, over-prescribing and inconsistent monitoring of opioid pain medications is a major contributing factor to the overdose epidemic.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there were 259 million prescriptions written for opioids in 2014—enough for one opioid prescription for every adult American. By employing teams of public health outreach workers and people in recovery to visit doctors to talk about best, BCHD is working to ensure that opioids are more responsibly prescribed across Baltimore.

During today’s bipartisan hearing, Dr. Wen called on the Federal Government to:

  • Expand funding and availability of on-demand treatment service
  • Provide Cities and States with opportunity to innovate around addiction recovery
  • Monitor and regulate the price and availability of naloxone.
  • Push for national stigma-reduction and opioid awareness campaign 

“In Baltimore we continue to make progress with bold ideas and innovative strategies as we seek to change the face of Baltimore from the ‘heroin capital’ to becoming the center of addiction recovery,” added Health Commissioner Dr. Wen. “While we are glad to share the lessons we have learned, we need increased support from our dedicated partners in Congress to combat opioid addiction through public health approaches so that we can save lives, provide the treatment people need, and eliminate stigma behind the disease of addiction.”

About 25,000 Americans die annually from opioid overdose. Between 2002 and 2013, the rate of those dying from opioid-related overdoses has nearly quadrupled. 

There were 303 total drug and alcohol overdose deaths in Baltimore City in 2014, compared with 246 in 2013, a 23 percent increase.

The hearing is available to be streamed at: http://www.help.senate.gov/hearings/opioid-abuse-in-america-facing-the-epidemic-and-examining-solutions

Dr. Wen's full testimony is available at: http://health.baltimorecity.gov/files/Dr.WenHELPCommitteeTestimony

 

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