The Baltimore City Health Department is getting a new $200,000 grant from the Open Society Institute – Baltimore to aid in the fight against opioid overdoses, city Health Commissioner Leana Wen announced Monday. The money is slated to pay for real-time alerts about overdose spikes and new community engagement efforts.
Through the new program, the health department gets an alert from public safety and hospital officials. Outreach teams then go to areas with large numbers of overdoses to educate the community about the Fentanyl that may be mixed in with Heroin, and about how to use Narcan — the brand name for the drug Naloxone — to stop an overdose.
Wen said one of the biggest challenges her agency faces is the stigma attached to treating opioid addiction.
“When we talk about Narcan and getting Narcan out to people, we hear comments like, why would you get this medication out to people? Wouldn’t this medication cause more people to use drugs? Which, by the way, we would never say that about any other disease,” Wen said. “Would you ever say to someone, ‘I’m not going to give you an Epipen because it might make you eat more peanuts next time’?”
The new grant will pay for efforts to reduce that stigma.
However, the grant will not pay for more units of Naloxone. The city can afford 5,000 units of the drug between now and the start of the next fiscal year, on July 1, 2018. The state also announced on Friday that it would give the city enough resources for another 10,000 units. But Wen said that’s not nearly enough.
“If we were to receive 100,000 units, we could give out 100,000 units,” she said. “Ideally, we would love to have everyone carry this in their medicine cabinet and their first aid kit.”