News Coverage

How Medicaid fits into Maryland's opioid crisis (WYPR)

Sixty-four-year old Johnnie Davis has been treating his heroin addiction at the Bon Secours New Hope Treatment Center in West Baltimore for nearly 20 years.

“When I came here, I didn’t have no insurance,” he said. “And if I wasn’t here, I could imagine where my life would have turned because I was known for drugs — selling drugs.”

With no insurance and no job, Davis paid $8 a week for the Methadone program. The clinic later helped him get health coverage through Medicaid. For the last 18 years or so, his treatment has been covered in full.

Maryland is in the midst of an epidemic. More than 1,800 people died last year from overdosing on opioids, a 70-percent increase from the year before, according to data released last week by the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Medicaid covers roughly 20 percent of Maryland residents, but Medicaid patients make up a larger portion of the Marylanders grappling with addiction.

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Baltimore’s Top Doctor: Why Aren’t We Treating Gun Violence Like A Health Crisis? (Huffington Post)

Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore’s health commissioner and an emergency room physician, wrote a moving op-ed last week after a gunman opened fire on a congressional baseball practice. In it, she highlighted the daily horror of gun violence the medical community faces.

Wen has long argued that gun violence is a public health issue ― a medical emergency without a prevention plan.

“Medical professionals are trained to stanch bleeding, stitch wounds and patch up broken bodies,” she wrote in her piece for The New York Times, titled “What Bullets Do To Bodies.” “We are good at our jobs; most gunshot victims survive their wounds. But every day, we are plagued by the question of how to prevent these injuries in the first place, when the damage is so extensive from weapons so readily available.”

Wen spoke to HuffPost on Monday about why she believes gun violence is a public health issue, and what Baltimore is doing to prevent it. 

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Baltimore needs more funding for naloxone (WMAR)

The opioid epidemic has reached new levels in Maryland, increasing the need for life-saving medications like naloxone. Baltimore City Health Commissioner Leanna Wen says there isn't enough naloxone to meet the demand. 

She says more than 800 people have been saved in the last two years with overdose reversal medications, but numbers are skyrocketing  driving up the costs of naloxone.

"We are short of funding for it," Wen said. "There's plenty of naloxone if we're able to buy it and the manufacturers have been generous in that we've received donations from some of the manufacturers and we've gotten thousands of units of Narcan from these manufacturers, but we should not depend on the charity of drug companies."

Dr. Wen says the Health Department is depending on the state and federal governments to provide funding for these medications.  

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Baltimore health commissioner: Naloxone in short supply (WBAL-TV)

Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen said she needs money to fund naloxone and she needs the state's help.

Health Department website: "Don't die, get naloxone"

"Because of fentanyl, heroin, other prescription opioid drugs that are killing our residents, we need Narcan more than ever, and we don't simply have enough. We don't have the resources to purchase it," Wen said.

Narcan is the brand name for the drug naloxone, which can reverse an opioid overdose.

The Baltimore City Health Department said it has 4,000 doses available through May of next year. If the Health Department does not ration its supply now, it could run out by the end of July.

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Baltimore Forced To Ration Life-Saving Narcan As Opioid Crisis Worsens (WJZ)

It can save lives, but Baltimore’s Health Department is being forced to ration Narcan.

Alex DeMetrick reports, preventing deaths from drug overdose has left the department trapped between increased demand for Narcan, and not enough money to buy what’s needed.

Narcan is the drug that can stop a drug overdose and save a life.

“The problem is that we just don’ have enough money to purchase more Narcan, and as a result we basically have to ration it,” says Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen.

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Baltimore City running low on opioid overdose remedy (Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore health officials are running low on naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug used hundreds of times by bystanders in the last couple of years to save lives.

Dr. Leana Wen, the city health commissioner, said demand has jumped significantly along with the drug epidemic and the health department needs funding for more supplies.

"We are rationing," she said. "We're deciding who is at the highest risk and giving it to them."

The city has about 4,000 doses left to last until next May. The department will distribute them, two at a time, to residents, including IV drug users encountered by the city's needle exchange vans or by outreach workers in "hotspots," areas where a spate of overdoses recently occurred.

"If I had 10,000 doses and gave them to everyone who requested them, I'd run out in about two weeks," Wen said.

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Overdose deaths surging across Maryland

State health officials said 2,089 people died of an overdose in 2016 in Maryland.

The deaths represent the largest year-over-year increase in overdose deaths ever recorded in Maryland history, state health officials said.

State health officials said almost 90 percent of the deaths were opioid-related.

Carin Miller, with Maryland Heroin Awareness Advocates, said these deaths are the latest sign of a health crisis in the state.
“We have a 68-year-old grandfather who is injecting heroin with his grandson,” Miller said. “We had an 86-year-old woman in Frederick County and the family went in and thought she had the flu and they said, ‘We're sorry your grandma is in withdrawal.’”

In Frederick County, 88 people died of overdoses last year, a 100 percent increase from 2015.

“The numbers are absolutely devastating,” Baltimore City Health Department spokeswoman Michelle Mendes said. “In Baltimore City we had 694 total overdoses in 2016.

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Baltimore city schools respond to crisis with behavioral health programs

Almost immediately after starting her job in 2015 as Baltimore’s health commissioner, Leana Wen took a series of walking tours around the city, listening to residents’ concerns.

Much of what she heard was expected, but what she was told by public school students surprised her.

“I thought they’d ask about smoking or STDs,” Wen recalled. “But what every single one of them talked about was mental health.

“They talked about what it was like to grow up in a house where they were the only one to get up in the morning. Everyone else was on drugs.

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Baltimore gears up to battle Zika

Baltimore city council members have an update now on what the city is doing to help prevent the spread of Zika, the mosquito-borne illness.

Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore City Health Commissioner, met with the city’s public safety committee at city hall Tuesday. Wen told the committee her office is prepared. She’s also reminding residents of what they can do to help stop Zika.

Kimberly Lodge said she pays close attention to the Zika warnings made by public officials. That includes keeping a close eye on her bird baths in the backyard of home in Roland Park.

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City health department launches online tool to encourage workplace wellness

The Baltimore City Health Department is encouraging local employers to provide a healthier work environment, using a new online tool that allows companies to assess their workplace's wellness efforts.

The new tool allows area workers to participate in a questionnaire that focuses on nutrition, physical fitness, behavioral health and substance abuse in a work environment. Employees are asked questions such as whether their office offers educational programming about healthy eating, or accessible information on addiction treatment.

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