After Success Against Heroin, OD Deaths Rise in Baltimore

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Facing a major epidemic of heroin overdose deaths in Ohio, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports on how Baltimore handled its own heroin problem. Baltimore is under an official public health emergency, and overdoses and drug use are the reasons. An epidemiologist has calculated 19,000, or 3 percent of its residents, are addicted to heroin. Officials just guess. Officials fight the epidemic with a multi-pronged, science-based approach that has specialists across the nation watching and hoping. “The city has a strong tradition of innovative approaches to dealing with heroin epidemic,” said Dr. Adam Bisaga,  professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center. “They have decades of experience building relationships with people who are using drugs,” said Daniel Raymond, policy director for the national Harm Reduction Coalition in New York City.

Baltimore has been bold in getting out the life-saving non-narcotic naloxone. It has a long track record of providing needle exchange programs to injection drug users. In addition, Baltimore was a pioneer in medication-assisted treatment, funding since 2003 the medication buprenorphine, which quells cravings and stabilizes the brains of heroin and opioid users. The efforts initially bore fruit. Baltimore saw a drop in overdoses for the first quarter of 2016, a year after the city adopted new programs and fortified those already in place to fight the drug. More recently, the numbers of overdose deaths are rising again. The city notes that fentanyl has hit hard, and in August, announced an initiative to fight those opioid deaths. The city created a fentanyl task force that sends outreach teams to warn opioid users in high drug-use areas when the task force recognizes a fentanyl overdose spike. The task force also alerts treatment centers and other services that provide help to those addicted. Getting information to all stakeholders quickly is key to keeping people alive, the city’s health department says.


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