Testimony in Favor of HB 1329 Heroin and Opioid Prevention Effort (HOPE) and Treatment Act of 2017

Following is testimony given by Mark O’Brien, Director of Opioid Overdose Prevention and Treatment. The statement was presented to the Health and Government Operations Committee on behalf of Dr. Wen on March 7, 2017.

Chair Pendergrass, Vice-Chair Bromwell, and Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify in support of HB 1329 and HB1080. My name is Mark O’Brien, and I am the Director of Opioid Overdose Prevention and Treatment for the Baltimore City Health Department. I am here today on behalf of Baltimore City Health Commissioner, Dr. Wen.

Maryland is in the midst of an epidemic of opioid epidemic with over 2,000 overdose deaths in 2016. Baltimore City has been hit hard too with over 650 deaths. These are our family, friends, and neighbors who are dying in unprecedented numbers.

Passage of HB1329 and HB1080 will bring us closer to ending this crisis, and we support passage of these important bills with some amendments to increase their effectiveness.

The ideas we are presenting today have been vetted by a clearinghouse of public health, behavioral health, medical, public safety experts and more, each of whom have identified the policies we must put in place to address opioid addiction from every angle. BCHD has reviewed each of these policies and shared recommendations on behalf of this group of experts.

We are encouraged that the opioid crisis has now been highlighted as a public health emergency by the State – but as with any emergency, we must address it with adequate funding and proven solutions. Our proposed amendments consist of four key pillars that must be a part of a comprehensive solution:

First, HB 1329 should expand our ability to distribute naloxone by creating a dedicated fund for purchasing medication. Naloxone distribution has saved over 800 lives in Baltimore since 2015.

Second, HB 1329 should promote addiction treatment on demand. Only one in ten people who need it get addiction treatment. We would never accept this reality for any other disease.

HB 1329 should provide funding for ten behavioral health ERs where people who are intoxicated or under the influence of drugs can be safe and access services that can help them to lead a healthier lifestyle.

HB 1329 should create a statewide Hub and Spokes system for people to get buprenorphine and intensive services in a Hub and referrals into a lower level of care at the Spokes once they are stabilized. This best practice has proven to be effective in Vermont.

It should also require every hospital, jail, and prison to offer medication-assisted treatment for opioid addictions.

Under the third pillar, HB 1329 should ensure that people are screened for addiction at critical touch points and referred into treatment if they need it. This should be accomplished by mandating that emergency departments and hospitals throughout the state screen people for addiction and offer referrals to treatment.

Fourth, HB 1080 should address the need to increase public awareness and reduce stigma around the disease of addiction. Baltimore City’s “Don’t Die” campaign provides a template for a public awareness campaign in this area.

We must do all that we can to educate people and reduce the stigma around these disorders so that parents can talk about drugs with their kids, and we can talk with our neighbors and encourage them to get help if they need it.

Treating these disorders as the health issues, rather than continuing to criminalize people who need treatment, sends a strong signal in this regard. Expanding not only drug courts, but also law enforcement assisted diversion programs, would be a positive step in that direction.

As we consider what this crisis means for our state, we must also focus our resources and programming on places of greatest need, like Baltimore City. I want to thank you for your commitment to addressing this issue, and request favorable reports for HB 1329 and HB1080 with these amendments.

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