Baltimore City Health Commissioner Responds to the President’s Opioid Epidemic Designation as a Public Health Emergency

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

Baltimore, MD Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen today issued the following statement in response to the President’s designation of a state of emergency for the opioid epidemic:

“I support the president in declaring the opioid epidemic a public health emergency, though I question why a broader declaration of a national state of emergency did not happen and why there is no specific funding committed today. Imagine if there were hundreds of people dying from a natural disaster or from a disease such as Ebola every day—there would be no question that a declaration should take place that would have the full force of the federal government, including funding and resources, behind it.

“We await next steps following this declaration. Specifically, we ask the following 5 questions:

1. What is the exactly commitment to funding? National state of emergency declarations come with commitments for funding. When hurricanes devastate communities, it’s understood that billions of dollars are required to rebuild homes and repair infrastructure. The same understanding applies for stopping an epidemic. In Baltimore and across the country, we desperately need these resources. Studies show that only 1 in 10 people with addiction can receive the treatment that they need — a statistic we would not find acceptable for any other disease. The President needs to announce a specific dollar amount for new funding, not repurposed dollars that take away from other key health priorities.

2. Will funding go directly to communities of greatest need? Cities and counties have been fighting this epidemic for years. We know what works, and local officials should not have to jump through additional hoops to obtain the resources we need. The federal government should make a decision now about how to allocate based on which areas are hardest hit. Local jurisdiction should not have to wait to receive direct, necessary funding.

3. Will the federal government engage its powers to the full extent? Recently, Rep. Elijah Cummings led a group of 51 representatives to call for the President to negotiate directly with manufacturers for a much-decreased price of the opioid antidote, naloxone. Our city of Baltimore is out of funds to purchase naloxone, forcing us to ration and make decisions everyday about who can receive a life-saving medication. If this were an infectious disease for which an antibiotic were readily available, there would be no question that we need to obtain this and issue it to all those in need.

4. Will there be needed attention to disease treatment? I agree with the President’s contention that prevention is the best medicine, but we must also address the millions of people who already have the disease of addiction and who need treatment. If they cannot access treatment, they will continue to fuel the demand for drugs and contribute to the rising toll of overdose deaths.

5. Will the President reverse proposals that are detrimental to treating addiction? Gutting Medicaid would hurt the one in three patients with addiction who depend on it for addiction treatment. Other patients on private insurance could find themselves without access to treatment if addiction is no longer part of their health plan. Furthermore, budget cuts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health will impede progress in controlling the epidemic. The state of emergency declaration should recognize the direct and immediate impacts of these policy decisions and reverse these proposals, before it is too late.

President Trump has the opportunity to assert bold leadership and put the full force of the federal government toward ending the opioid crisis. It is long past time. Communities like ours in Baltimore City have lost thousands of lives from addiction for decades. The science is clear. We know that addiction is a disease, treatment exists, and recovery is possible. I urge the President to go beyond the rhetoric and ensure that the declaration of emergency comes with the resources and the will to truly treat this devastating disease.”

 

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