The Addiction and Health Equity Program seeks to generate and promote innovative ideas that improve health equity and increase access to high-quality behavioral health services, reduce negative stigma, and support community engagement to improve public health in Baltimore.
In 2019, the Addiction and Health Equity Program continued our work to leverage health care reforms to increase access to quality addiction treatment services. Our funding supported successful efforts to create the country’s first prescription drug affordability board, which will help address the unsustainable rising costs of medications in Maryland. OSI-Baltimore also supported efforts to address gaps in insurance coverage and insurance practices that negatively impact access to treatment. The goal of our efforts is to continue to both build on the expanded access to health insurance created by federal health care reform and to make sure that hard working families are not denied services by rising health care costs.
The Addiction and Health Equity Program maintained its partnerships with a number of harm reduction organizations in Baltimore and across the state and backed people directly impacted by substance use to advocate in their own voice. These funding streams supported peer recovery specialists and other individuals with lived experience with addiction or substance use so that they would be able to organize, access trainings and educational resources, and provide harm reduction-based street outreach to people using drugs in Baltimore City. The program also continued to support low-barrier access to treatment and other services by funding local drop-in centers and a mobile treatment van.
Lowering the Threshold to Treatment
With thousands of Marylanders dying each year from opiate-related overdoses, it is still far too difficult to access treatment and other resources to meet their needs. In 2019, the Addiction and Health Equity Program supported a number of initiatives to make it easier—also known as lowering the threshold—for people dealing with a substance use disorder to access community-based services.
Knowing what treatment programs and other resources exist in one’s community is critical to being able to access those resources. That’s why OSI-Baltimore worked with the Baltimore City Health Department to launch Charm Care, an online directory of resources for city residents, including treatment programs, housing, workforce development programs, food access, and educational support. Drug treatment providers use the system to share their capacity to accept new patients in real time, so residents can quickly and easily find a treatment program that meets their needs with immediate intake availability.
Drug use is still criminalized, so a disproportionate number of people incarcerated in the Baltimore City Jail have a substance use disorder. Studies have shown that newly released prisoners are 40 times more likely to experience an overdose than the general population, making the first days after release from jail a critical time to connect people with drug treatment and harm reduction services. That’s why we supported the Behavioral Health Leadership Institute’s Project Connections at Re-Entry (PCARE) van. It sits outside the Baltimore City jail to get people started on treatment as soon as they’re leaving jail. This low-threshold program accepts returning citizens regardless of whether they have insurance or even an ID, getting them immediately engaged in treatment and services so they can stay alive and receive needed supports as soon as they are released.
While increased access to drug treatment is still needed across the city, we also recognize that not everyone is ready to stop using today and harm reduction services can help to keep people healthier and safer while they are in active drug use. That’s why we supported Charm City Care Connection (CCCC), a drop-in center in East Baltimore, to open a harm reduction service program in 2019. In addition to CCCC’s health screenings and case management, the harm reduction service program offers overdose education and naloxone distribution, sterile syringe distribution and collection, regular drop-in hours, weekly community lunches, and other leisure activities. These resources build a supportive community that engages Baltimore residents who have typically been disconnected from treatment and other services in the city.
Behavioral Health Leadership Institute’s PCARE van outside the Baltimore City Jail.
Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition
$250,000 over two years to provide harm reduction programming, advocate for harm reduction policies, and reduce stigma relating to drug use.
Charm City Care Connection
$100,000 over one year to provide harm reduction programming and policy advocacy, operate a drop-in center that supports community members, and reduce stigma relating to drug use.*
Legal Action Center of the City of New York
$100,000 over two years to protect gains made under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and expand access to behavioral health services that are desperately needed to address the opioid crisis.
Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative Education Fund
$75,000 over one year to help implement the Prescription Drug Affordability Board law and work with advocates in other states to build coordinated momentum for continued state and federal policy action to make prescription drugs more affordable.
Maryland Peer Advisory Council
$75,000 over one year, to identify and train new peer support specialists to become advocates for drug policy reform.
Mental Health Association of Maryland
$100,000 over one year to build an alliance among key payers, providers, regulatory and consumer organizations to advance insurance policy and practice reforms for the purpose of improving access to effective mental health and substance use treatment for Marylanders.
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency
$275,000 over two years to provide general support.
Progressive Maryland Education Fund
$25,000 over one year to engage in a public education campaign to build understanding and support among Maryland residents for harm reduction strategies; and to train and develop community leaders to become part of the policy development conversation and be the true drivers of drug policy change.*
*These grants were funded, in part, through additional one-time support from Open Society Foundations.