This morning, Scott Nolen (right), director of OSI-Baltimore’s Addiction and Health Equity program, and OSI Advisory Board member Joe Jones participated in a roundtable discussion at Healthcare for the Homeless to talk about efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, and in particular, the Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency (CARE) Act that Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Elijah Cummings—both of whom participated in the roundtable, along with Senator Ben Cardin, Mayor Catherine Pugh, and Representative Jon Sarbanes, among others—have introduced. Watch coverage of Nolen’s comments on C-SPAN.
Baltimore City Health Commission Dr. Leana Wen moderated the discussion and said that the CARE Act, which would provide $100 billion of federal funding over 10 years, was ideal legislation because it provided funding to people on the front lines confronting the epidemic, it was sustained, and it was significant enough funding to make a real impact.
Senator Warren referenced the fact that 170 people die every day of overdose. “That’s a plane crash today, and tomorrow, and the next day and the next day and the next day,” she said. “The opioid epidemic is a public health emergency, but it’s not an emergency without hope.”
Mayor Pugh said she strongly supported the CARE Act particularly because it emphasized flexibility for local officials to address not just treatment, but the factors that cause it and prevent people from getting help. “This legislation gets to the root of the problem, the causes of the opioid epidemic, how we service people who are in need,” she said.
Nolen emphasized the need to include harm reduction in the discussion of how to address the opioid crisis and the importance of low-threshold access to treatment and housing. “You don’t kick a diabetic out of their housing because they had cake over the weekend,” he said, emphasizing that addiction is an ongoing disease and that the government can’t give up on people after a single attempt at treatment. Senator Warren agreed, saying “Addiction is a medical issue, not a moral failing.”