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Congressional officials, Baltimore leaders talk opioids at Health Care for the Homeless

07.30.18

On any given day, 175 people will die from overdose in the United States.

That stat surfaced during a roundtable discussion and C-SPAN live broadcast with congressional officials, Baltimore leaders and community members at our downtown clinic on Friday, July 27.

We were honored to welcome Senator Elizabeth Warren, Congressman Elijah Cummings, Senator Ben Cardin, Congressman John Sarbanes, Mayor Catherine Pugh, Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen and many others to tour our facility and discuss the state of our nation’s opioid epidemic.

“There is no question that we are at a state of emergency, at a public health crisis, here in Baltimore,” said Dr. Wen during opening remarks of the roundtable.

The timing of the discussion couldn’t have been more fitting.

Just last week, a report by the Maryland Department of Health found that there were 2,282 overdose deaths in Maryland last year. Of those, 761 occurred in Baltimore. 573 of these deaths involved fentanyl—that’s a 5,000% increase since 2013.

Still, our visitors were optimistic about where we go from here. Senator Warren and Congressman Cummings are drumming up support for the CARE Act, which would invest $100 billion over the next ten years to treat opioid use.

The bill is modeled after the Ryan White (CARE) Act that addressed the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1990s.

“The opioid epidemic is a public health emergency, but it is not a public health emergency that is without hope—we’ve been here before in public health emergencies,” said Senator Warren about the federal government’s response to HIV/AIDS.

President & CEO of Health Care for the Homeless Kevin Lindamood pointed out that the country’s shifting approach to opioid use is a reason in and of itself to be hopeful.

“We’re talking about opioid addiction as a public health crisis, as a health care issue. But for decades we talked about it as a moral failing,” said Kevin during an interview with C-SPAN.

Stigma has long been one of the biggest barriers to treating opioid use, which has had enormous consequences for treatment. Now that the conversation has shifted, it's time for our actions to follow suit.

“The reality is that [substance use] is a chronic disease,” said Chief Health Officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman also during a C-SPAN interview. “We use those words, but we don’t put the muscle behind that.”

Senator Warren and Congressman Cummings hope that the CARE Act will finally force the federal government to put its money where its mouth is.

We hope so, too.

View photos from the day.

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