Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen Testifies before House Oversight Committee on Baltimore’s Efforts to End Opioid Epidemic

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

BALTIMORE, MD (March 22, 2016) – Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen testified Tuesday before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee educating members about the innovative efforts being implemented in Baltimore address the opioid abuse epidemic and urging Congress to introduce policies that will improve community-based efforts to end this public health emergency.

“As an ER doctor, I have seen the devastation of opioid addiction firsthand, and as Baltimore City’s doctor, I have seen how heroin and opioids destroy individuals, families, and our communities,” said Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen. “In Baltimore, we recognize that treating addiction as a crime is unscientific, inhumane, and ineffective—we must treat addiction as the disease it is and focus on saving lives. I am proud to stand before our federal partners to share how the innovative strategies transforming our city into the national model for addiction recovery can be replicated in communities across the country.”

Dr. Wen was joined Tuesday by leading experts from across the country, including:

  • Michael Botticelli, White House Director of National Drug Control Policy;
  • Lou Milione, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Diversion Control for the Drug Enforcement Administration;
  • Kana Enomoto, Acting Administrator for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; and
  • Mayor Teresa Jacobs, Orange County, Florida.

Following her appointment in January 2015, Dr. Wen has declared opioid overdose a public health emergency and worked closely with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to guide the work of the Mayor’s Heroin Treatment and Prevention Task Force. Since issuing ten bold and progressive recommendations, Dr. Wen is implementing a citywide plan to prevent overdose, improve access to treatment, and improve education to patients and providers. In her testimony, Dr. Wen shared Baltimore City’s “3-Pillars” of Combating Opioid Addiction:

1. Preventing deaths from overdose:

In one of the most aggressive opioid overdose prevention campaigns across the country, Dr. Wen has expanded access to the antidote, naloxone, by:

  • Leading a citywide effort to expand the use of naloxone, training more than 8,000 residents in 2015, including in public markets, in drug court, and with police officers.
  • Issuing a “Standing Order,” enabling Dr. Wen to prescribe naloxone for all of Baltimore City’s 620,000 residents; and
  • Introducing a first of its kind online naloxone training to further reduce barriers to this lifesaving medication.

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

Understanding that stopping overdose is only the first step in addressing addiction, Dr. Wen has expanded access to on-demand treatment, including:

  • Launching a 24/7 phone hotline that connects residents with services and treatment information. Introduced less than six months ago, the line now fields 1,000 calls weekly;
  • Acquiring $3.6 million in funding to build a community-based Stabilization Center that will offer a more effective way to address public intoxication;
  • Expanding and promoting evidence-based treatments with medication-assisted treatment, psychosocial services, and wrap-around services; • Implementing proven diversion programs, such as Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program (LEAD) which connects eligible users to a facility for treatment and social supports– rather than to central booking for arrest; and
  • Adopting universal screening of patients in hospitals to make intervention available as early as possible for those with or at-risk for substance use disorders.

3. Provide education to reduce stigma and prevent addiction.

In coordination with partners, the Baltimore City Health Department is educating the public and providers on the nature of substance addiction: that it is a disease, recovery is possible, and we all must play a role in preventing addiction and saving lives, including:

  • Launching a public education campaign, “DontDie.org,” to educate citizens about the signs of overdose and how to save a life with naloxone;
  • Targeted outreach to prescribers to implement citywide best practices for opioid prescribing. There were 259 million prescriptions written for opioids in 2014—enough for one prescription for every adult American. In response, Dr. Wen has sent “best practice” letters to every doctor in Baltimore City, encouraging more judicious opioid prescribing behaviors and co-prescribing of naloxone with opioids; and
  • Alerting communities to emerging trends, such as the dangers of co-prescribing opioids and benzodiazepines, a combination that causes 33 percent of unintentional prescription opioid overdose deaths. Last month, Dr. Wen co-led a coalition of over 40 city health commissioners and state health directors, urging the FDA to require a ‘black box warning’ any time these two medications are prescribed together.

During today’s bipartisan hearing, Dr. Wen called on Congress to:

  • Expand funding and availability of on-demand and wrap-around addiction treatment services such as recovery housing;
  • Directly fund local jurisdictions with highest need, providing with cities and states with increased opportunity to innovate around addiction recovery and provide real-time care;
  • Change critical federal regulations around addiction and overdose treatment, including monitoring and regulating the price of naloxone, and removing barriers to prescribing Buprenorphine; and
  • Fund a national stigma-reduction and opioid awareness campaign to provide the spotlight this critical issue requires.

“While we have done much in Baltimore City, communities across the country need further support from the federal government to expand funding for on-demand, evidence-based addiction treatment for this disease that continues to afflict millions of Americans,” added Dr. Wen. “Addiction does not discriminate. There is much we can do as local jurisdictions, but we must continue to work in partnership to address this public health crisis.”

 The hearing is available to be streamed at: https://oversight.house.gov/hearing/americas-heroin-and-opioid-abuse-epidemic/

Dr. Wen's full testimony is available at: http://health.baltimorecity.gov/Testimony/HeroinandOpioidAbuseEpidemic/03-22-2016

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