TOWSON, MD—The Opioid Response Working Group convened by Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski on Wednesday issued its final report, which includes 11 recommendations to prevent addiction, expand access to treatment, and reduce overdose deaths.
The recommendations fall into seven categories, including stigma, prevention, treatment, recovery, family support, criminal justice, and harm reduction.
“Every overdose death means the loss of a son, daughter, mother, father, brother, sister, neighbor and friend. We must act strategically and decisively to address this devastating epidemic,” said County Executive Olszewski. “While we are proud of the tangible steps we are taking to address this epidemic, every death is preventable and we must continue to do more. I commend our working group for listening to people across the county and producing a set of specific recommendations to help us take immediate action and save lives.”
Baltimore County has the second highest number of overdose deaths in the state – in 2018, 348 people died from opioid-related overdoses, up from 323 in 2017. In the first six months of 2019, the county saw a small decline in the number of overdose deaths, but there were still 187 drug and alcohol overdose deaths in the county in that period.
Olszewski named an Opioid Strategy Coordinator and in May, he created the Opioid Response Working Group. The Working Group gathered public input through an online survey and two public meetings, as well as information from experts and stakeholders. A draft report was released in September with an opportunity for public comment.
“We appreciate the engagement of so many people across the county sharing their knowledge and experience on the opioid crisis,” said working group chair and President and CEO of GBMC HealthCare System Dr. John Chessare. “These recommendations reflect this input and will set the County on a path for further progress.”
The working group recommendations released today are:
- The Department of Health should develop and launch an expanded campaign to reduce stigma against people who use drugs and medication-based treatment for opioid use disorder.
- Baltimore County Public Schools should implement programs that build resilience among and support for youth.
- The Department of Health should build partnerships with government and community organizations to prevent opioid misuse by addressing social determinants of substance use.
- The Department of Health should set standards for providing addiction treatment in hospitals, primary care clinics, mental health programs, and addiction treatment programs. These standards should include offering individuals with opioid use disorder treatment with FDA-approved medications.
- The County should revise zoning restrictions to permit more opioid treatment programs that meet standards for high quality to serve county residents.
- The Department of Health should consider hub and spoke or similar models that support patients with different levels of complexity and changing needs over the course of treatment.
- The Department of Planning should develop a proposal to address barriers to the opening of recovery housing in Baltimore County. The proposal should receive public comment and be considered for adoption by the Planning Board, County Council, and County Executive..
- The Department of Health and Human Services should strengthen family support in two high-priority areas: for pregnant and parenting individuals and their families, and for family members of individuals affected by addiction.
- Baltimore County should make treatment with all three FDA-approved medications available to all individuals with opioid use disorder in the County correctional system.
- The Police Department should develop a plan to adopt a formal program that diverts individuals with a substance use disorder to treatment services instead of incarceration.
- The Department of Health should expand access to harm reduction programs based in evidence for populations at risk of overdose.
The working group on Wednesday also released responses (PDF) to the online survey and comments received about the draft report.