OSI-Baltimore and Baltimore Health Department Announce Release of a New Brief, “Baltimore’s Response to the Overdose Epidemic”
August 31, 2016
Evan Serpick, OSI-Baltimore
Michelle Mendes, Baltimore City Health Department
As we mark International Overdose Awareness Day (overdoseday.com), Open Society Institute-Baltimore and the Baltimore City Health Department are proud to announce the release of “Baltimore’s Response to the Overdose Epidemic: An Open Society Institute-Baltimore Brief.”
This brief, with an introduction by Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen, describes the rise in overdose deaths in recent years and details the city’s response, beginning in 2000 when OSI worked with the health department to establish an overdose prevention program to train opioid users, who are at the greatest risk for an overdose, to administer naloxone, the life-saving opioid antidote medication.
It goes on to describe subsequent efforts, including the creation of an infrastructure for treating addiction as a public health matter rather than a criminal one, the “Staying Alive” and “Don’t Die” public education campaigns, and the Baltimore Buprenorphine Initiative. As a result of these efforts and others, opioid overdose deaths in Maryland declined for several years and hit a low of 504 in 2010. But as opioid prescriptions increased along with the use of the much more deadly Fentanyl as a cutting agent, overdose deaths began to rise again in 2011 and have continued to rise, especially in predominantly white populations. This expansion has attracted new media attention to overdoses.
“The new media attention to overdoses, while tragically absent when opioid addiction affected predominantly minority communities, nevertheless now offers a window of opportunity to enact public health policies and campaigns to change outcomes for all people suffering from addiction,” Dr. Wen writes in her introduction. “Baltimore stands at the cutting edge among cities across the country in implementing such policies and campaigns.”
Scott Nolen, director of OSI-Baltimore’s Drug Addiction Treatment program, hopes the brief can offer a blueprint for other cities to respond to the overdose epidemic. “By establishing an overdose prevention program 16 years ago and responding to shifting dynamics on the ground ever since, we hope that we have provided a model and set of experiences that other cities can learn from,” he says.