With too many of our neighbors lacking access to life-saving treatment, opioid addiction has become an urgent crisis that requires committed leadership.
Baltimore County is in the midst of an opioid epidemic that has led to the death of thousands of our neighbors. In just the first nine months of last year, 238 Baltimore County residents died of opioid related causes–the second highest death toll in Maryland.
Over 80 percent of Marylanders agree that opioid addiction is a major problem in our state, and support medical treatment to address it. Over half personally know someone who has been addicted to opioids.
Unfortunately, the state of Maryland has one of the country’s lowest rates of addiction treatment provision. Over the last handful of years, the state of Maryland has also decreased funding for outpatient treatment services in Baltimore County by hundreds of thousands of dollars, by redirecting its state block grants. As a result, residents in Baltimore County have fewer options for life-saving treatment today than four years ago. Baltimore County’s Behavioral Health Advisory Council, established in part to address this scourge, has half a dozen vacancies.
What can we do?
Open community-based substance-abuse programs throughout the county.
While some have proposed opening up in-patient detox facilities in the county, such as at Rosewood, the greater need is for more outpatient centers, which accept medical assistance, dispersed throughout the county.
Currently, outpatient substance-abuse programs are centralized in health departments, which can make them difficult to reach for many residents. Instead, the County should aim for a wide range of community-based outpatient substance-abuse programs dispersed throughout our neighborhoods, like fire stations.
Dispersed, community-based programs ensure that when our residents need treatment, it’s close by and easily accessible, just as fire stations in our communities ensure that when we need their services, they are close by and ready to respond. Such community-based outpatient substance-abuse programs can also help prevent substance-abuse problems, through a range of educational programs and prevention classes, just as fire stations help educate residents about how to prevent fires. They can educate residents on how to use life-saving Nalaxone, for example, and provide programming and education on smoking cessation, overdose prevention, communicable-disease prevention, and safe drinking for those who receive DWI violations.
An important first step will be for Baltimore County to fully staff the advisory council. The county should also forge stronger partnerships with law enforcement, recovery communities, and substance-abuse health care professionals.