Monday, March 06, 2017

BALTIMORE - Opioid Crisis Update

"In the war on heroin, Baltimore drug programs face an uncertain future" by Laura Santhanam, PBS NewsHour 2/28/2017


In 2015, Baltimore wrote a city-wide prescription for a heroin antidote.  Two years later, as the city tries to expand access to addiction treatment, will the White House support its mission?

With a black plastic bag in hand, Gerald Young ducked into the needle exchange van parked across the street from Baltimore's Saint Paul Freewill Baptist Church.  A cold January rain drizzled outside.

Young shuffled to a small table and sat down, untying and overturning his half-knotted bag.  Three bundles of used needles tumbled into a red medical waste bin.

Across from Young, John Harris opened a new box of clean hypodermic needles and restored Young's supply.  Harris, a Baltimore public health worker, also gave him a new kit of Naloxone, an opioid antidote that stops a potentially fatal overdose in moments.  Young, a 61-year-old homeless Baltimore native, rose to leave the van and wander around his hometown.

On that same van, outgoing U.S. drug czar Michael Botticelli, whose strategies targeted substance abuse and addiction treatment for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, stood off to the corner, asking workers what they'd been seeing.  Botticelli had traveled to Baltimore to praise the city's fight against the opioid epidemic.  On the eve of President Donald Trump's inauguration, he wondered how his work would carry forward.

Over the last five years, the nation's opioid crisis has gained momentum, despite federal, state and local officials' attempts to control it.  The most recent government data shows more than 33,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses in 2015 alone.  Those deaths have quadrupled since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  And in Maryland, which ranked 14th in drug overdose death rate nationwide in 2015, that rate rose 20 percent over the previous year.  By September 2016, 70 percent of the state's 918 fatal heroin overdoses happened in and around Baltimore, state records show.

Policymakers have targeted opioid deaths with new programs in recent years.  All states except Missouri use real-time electronic records to monitor how often doctors prescribe and pharmacists dispense drugs.  When Congress approved and President Barack Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act last year, states secured $1 billion to fund substance abuse treatment targeting heroin and opioid users.  And a growing number of cities and states have expanded access to Naloxone; Baltimore was one of the nation's earliest adopters.

"Baltimore turns to a life-saving opioid overdose antidote, but it's no cure for the crisis" PBS NewsHour 3/1/2017


SUMMARY:  With overdose deaths from opioids on the rise across the country, Baltimore has begun training everyday citizens to use a life-saving antidote as one tool to combat the crisis, and the approach is catching on.  But while many more states and municipalities have moved to make Naloxone more accessible, not everyone believes this is the right strategy.  The NewsHour's Pamela Kirkland reports.

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