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Wen asks feds for help as Trump opioid order set to expire

Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Baltimore City Health Commissioner Leana Wen has asked federal health officials for assistance with the opioid epidemic weeks before President Donald Trump’s public health emergency declaration is set to expire without any action.

Acting Secretary of Health and Human Services Eric Hargan and Surgeon General Jerome Adams were among the officials Wen met with Friday to share some methods Baltimore has used to fight the opioid epidemic.

“I made the plea for them for urgent new funding directly to jurisdictions like ours,” Wen said. “I was glad to have the opportunity to make the case directly to the acting secretary.”

But despite the meeting and Trump’s declaration in October, little aid has come from the federal government, as Politico reported yesterday. Trump’s declaration will expire Jan. 26.

“Here in Maryland, we have not seen the impact or any new resources,” Wen said. “(The federal officials) said that they heard our concerns, and we hope that they will consider the experiences of those of us on the front lines and provide the funding that we desperately need.”

Billions of dollars are needed to confront the opioid epidemic, Wen said. She hopes to see an aid package similar to what the government would provide during a similar health emergency such as an Ebola outbreak.

Congress is considering an $81 billion aid package for the national disasters that swept the country last year, including hurricanes in the South and wildfires in California.

While Baltimore and Maryland have not seen federal aid for the opioid crisis, Wen did take the opportunity to share with the federal officials how the city is responding to the epidemic.

“We shared our three pillar strategy,” she said. “We make do with very little. We stretch every cent that we have. We are at our limit.”

The city’s strategy has included issuing a standing prescription for the anti-overdose drug Narcan and education focused on reducing the stigma drug misuse and addiction. The city has also been opening stabilization centers and expanding access to treatment.

But these actions may not be able to make a significant impact until more funds are available nationwide to fight the epidemic, Wen said.

“We are so far from adequate resources to address this,” she said. “How can we have results if we are not getting the resources we need to fund this?”

The Department of Health and Human Services has not responded to a request for comment.

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