Baltimore City Health Commissioner Expresses Grave Concern about Steep Rise in Overdose

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

BALTIMORE, MD (June 8, 2017)—Today, Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen issued the following statement in response to the release of overdose death data, which shows that there were 694 fatal overdoses in Baltimore City in 2016:

“We continue to lose hundreds of family, friends, and community members in Baltimore City to overdose. This is a public health emergency that demands immediate action to prevent further death.

“In Baltimore City, 694 people lost their lives to overdose in 2016 compared to 393 the year prior. The sharp increase in overdose deaths is directly attributable to the increased prevalence of fentanyl—an extremely deadly opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Last year, 419 people died due to overdoses involving fentanyl—more than three times the number compared to 2015 and an increase of over 35-fold from just four years ago.

“These devastating statistics are more troubling given that there is a medication—known as naloxone—that can completely reverse an opioid overdose and save a person’s life. The data demonstrates the urgent need for the standing order for naloxone that I issued last week, which effectively makes naloxone an over-the-counter medication in Baltimore City. Since 2015, over 800 lives have been saved by every day Baltimoreans using naloxone to save lives. Anyone can walk into any pharmacy in Baltimore City to get naloxone, and we urge everyone to do so today.

“Saving a life is a first, crucial step, but we in Baltimore are running out of funding for naloxone—therefore pricing our residents out of the ability to rescue fellow residents. Also, naloxone alone is not enough. The science is clear that addiction is a chronic brain disease for which treatment exists and recovery is possible. However, our capacity to provide on-demand treatment for the disease of addiction is completely inadequate—nationwide, only 1 in 10 people who need treatment are able to obtain it.

“Baltimore City has been requesting resources from our state and federal partners. The 21st Centuries Cures Act allocated $10 million to Maryland; Baltimore City submitted our request in January 2017 and we continue to wait for guidance as to how these funds will be allocated. The Governor’s State of Emergency comes with a promise of $50 million of funding; we continue to wait for information as to how those of us on the frontlines can obtain these funds.

“The devastating numbers released today underscore the urgency: we need these resources and we need them today. Our residents’ lives depend on it.”

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