Baltimore City Announces Increased Response to Addiction on International Overdose Awareness Day


Media Contacts:

Mona Rock: Office: (443) 984-2623, Cell: (410) 375-7763

Baltimore, Md. (August 31, 2016) – Today, Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen joined U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, Congressman John Sarbanes, and partners across the city to highlight Baltimore’s ongoing response to the overdose crisis in observance of International Overdose Awareness Day, a global annual event to raise awareness of overdose and reduce stigma associated with the disease of addiction.

Baltimore City also announced several new initiatives, including the formation of a citywide, multi-agency Fentanyl Task Force to respond to the spike in overdoses related to the synthetic opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin.

“Substance use is tied to so many of the challenges many of our residents face, including poverty, crime, and violence,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. “We must address the overdose epidemic to give families the opportunity for brighter futures.”

There were 393 drug and alcohol overdose deaths in Baltimore City in 2015, compared with 303 in 2014 and 246 in 2013. An estimated 24,000 individuals use opioids in Baltimore.

Throughout the day, Baltimore City employees, volunteers, and partners conducted overdose education and naloxone trainings in more than a dozen locations across the city. Activities culminated with an evening vigil in remembrance of those who lost their lives to overdose.

“Over the past year, we have made immense strides in Baltimore City to fight the national opioid epidemic, including training over 14,000 people in how to save a life and issuing a blanket prescription for the overdose antidote, naloxone, to every resident,” said Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen. “Overdoses continue to kill more people in our city than homicide, and quality, on-demand treatment remains out of reach for the vast majority of those suffering from addiction. We would never tolerate this for any other disease, so we must strengthen our efforts to ensure that no more lives are lost to this devastating disease that affects individuals, families and communities.”

In the latest effort to address the critical problem of opioid addiction in Baltimore City, Dr. Wen today joined with city officials to announce the formation of the Citywide Fentanyl Task Force.

The number of fatal overdoses related to fentanyl has skyrocketed in Baltimore City in recent years, increasing ten-fold from 2013 to 2015. Preliminary data show that there have been approximately twice as many fentanyl-related deaths during the first half of 2015 as compared to that time last year.

In response to this increase, Mayor Rawlings-Blake directed BCHD to convene the Fentanyl Task Force comprised of representatives from more than 20 city agencies to combat the rise in deaths involving fentanyl.

The Fentanyl Task Force announced today will be responsible for creating real-time alert capacity and citywide rapid response team for fentanyl overdose spikes. Once an increase in fentanyl overdoses is detected, outreach teams will be deployed to share information about the heightened danger of overdose. This will be bolstered by participation of substance use treatment providers, homeless services, and other service providers in the city who will receive these alerts to warn participants in their programs.

“On this International Overdose Awareness Day, our goal is to save lives. There isn’t a city or county across Maryland that I have visited where local officials and community leaders haven’t wanted to discuss opioid and heroin abuse. It saddens me to see that the damages of this epidemic are most apparent, here, in Baltimore City, the city I love,” said Senator Ben Cardin. “Prescription opioid abuse and heroin use is destroying families and devastating our communities. I am proud to see Baltimore continue to strengthen its efforts across the City. We can prevent opioid overdoses, but we will need to muster all available resources at every level of government, including strong coordination between emergency responders, health professionals, law enforcement, treatment centers and the family and friends of those vulnerable to becoming addicted. This is a battle that we can and must win on behalf of the health and safety of our families and our communities across Maryland.”

Today officials also launched Baltimore City’s Overdose Response Ambassadors program, a Health Department led project which will convene volunteers to deliver overdose education and naloxone trainings to members of the community across the city.

“Oftentimes, the people closest to an individual experiencing an opioid overdose are best positioned to administer antidotes like naloxone,” said Congressman Sarbanes, who authored the Co-Prescribe to Reduce Overdoses Act, a bill signed into law by the President last month to help expand access to naloxone. “That’s why it’s crucial for community leaders and health officials to increase awareness of and access to overdose reversal drugs. Baltimore City officials are taking a lead in this effort, and together with support from Maryland and the federal government, we can equip more people with overdose reversal drugs like naloxone, save lives and help combat the epidemic of opioid abuse in Baltimore, throughout Maryland and across the country.”

In July of 2015, the Mayor’s Heroin Treatment and Prevention 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 continues to lead one of the most aggressive overdose prevention campaigns in the country, including:

  • Launching an education campaign: “” 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;
  • Promoting a citywide effort to expand the use of naloxone, training more than 14,000 residents since 2015, including in public markets, in drug court, and with police officers. Since expanding access to this medication, police offers in Baltimore City have saved more than 30 lives;
  • Issuing Maryland's first “Standing Order,” which allows all of Baltimore’s 620,000 residents in Baltimore City to get a prescription for the antidote that reverses an opioid overdose;
  • Introducing a first of its kind online naloxone training to further reduce barriers to this lifesaving medication;
  • 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; and
  • 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

Earlier this year, Dr. Wen joined President Obama for a discussion at the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit where she shared Baltimore City’s innovative platform to prevent overdose, expand access to treatment, and improve education to patients and providers. She has also testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Senate HELP Committee to educate federal lawmakers on what is needed at the local level to combat this public health emergency. Additionally, BCHD hosted the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, to highlight the city’s innovative efforts to combat the opioid epidemic.

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