Baltimore City Health Commissioner Urges Congress to Support CARE Act and Adopt “Ryan White for the Opioid Epidemic”


Congress is slated to vote on various bills aimed at fighting the opioid epidemic this week. Baltimore City Heath Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen issued the following statement about what is needed on the frontlines:

“As Congress reviews dozens of bills focused on combatting the opioid epidemic, I ask them to remember this: We know what works. We don’t have a shortage of ideas. We have a shortage of resources.

The majority of the bills currently being considered are tinkering around the edges. Many present short-term or small fixes that will not allow frontline providers to address the epidemic in the way we know is necessary.

Thirty years ago, the HIV/AIDS epidemic raged around the country. The Ryan White Program turned the tide to save lives and provide long-term treatment. Congress needs to adopt a Ryan White Program for the opioid epidemic.

This bill now exists, as the Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency (CARE) Act (HR.5545, S.2700), introduced by Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Elijah Cummings. Modeled after Ryan White, the CARE Act would direct $100 billion to the opioid epidemic over 10 years. It is what we on the frontlines desperately need: it would deliver sustained funding, in an amount commensurate with the scope of the crisis, directly to areas hardest hit by addiction and overdose.

Here in Baltimore, we have taken many innovative steps to prevent opioid overdoses and treat the disease of addiction. In 2015, I issued a standing order – a blanket prescription for naloxone – to 620,000 Baltimore City residents. Since then, everyday residents have saved the lives of more than 2,000 family members, friends, and neighbors throughout our City. We have set up a 24/7 crisis and treatment hotline, established a program offering individuals arrested for low-level drug offenses the choice of treatment instead of prosecution, made on-demand treatment available in our emergency departments, and announced a first-of-its kind Stabilization Center – the start of a 24/7 emergency room for addiction and mental health.

Now, we need the ability to scale up these interventions and save more lives. In Baltimore, we are running out of resources. Every week, we have to ration naloxone because we simply don’t have the funding to purchase enough of this life-saving antidote.

Congress made a decision with the Ryan White Program: no longer would we allow our loved ones to die of HIV/AIDS. We need to make the same decision now. Congress has the power to prevent overdose deaths. I urge our elected representatives to take action and adopt a proposal that has saved millions of lives before, and will save millions of lives now. We have the ability to stop this epidemic, as long as we have the will and commit the resources to do so.”

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