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Clinton joins Baltimore leaders in urging more funds to combat opioids

Md. clinicians to hear from opioid crisis victims at conference

A week after President Donald Trump declared the nation’s opioid problem a public health emergency, Baltimore leaders, joined by former President Bill Clinton, are calling for more resources to be devoted to easing the crisis.

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

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

The former president’s foundation Saturday released a report on the opioid crisis with Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, laying out specific policy recommendations to deal with the ongoing epidemic.

Clinton hosted a panel discussion at Hopkins Monday morning that included U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, Baltimore Health Commissioner Leana Wen, Plank Industries CEO Tom Geddes and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

Trump has been applauded for calling attention to the scope of the problem, but he’s also come under criticism for only declaring a public health emergency instead of a state of emergency, which would have opened up more federal funds.

Wen said that, absent more resources, just changing policies can help lessen the crisis.

One of those policies in Baltimore included opening up the availability of anti-overdose drug Naloxone.

But adding more resources could make even more of a difference, Wen noted.

“We’ve been able to do a lot with limited resources by changing policy,” she said. “We’ve been priced out of the ability to do that. We have to ration Naloxone every day.”

The city has the resources to provide 10,000 doses of the drug by July 2018. But she said she could give out all 10,000 doses in just a couple of days if she had the resources to acquire more.

Cummings argued that more resources for Medicaid could also help treat the crisis.

“I think we have to convince our policymakers that they should not be trying to reduce Medicaid, where a lot of people who need this treatment would be able to get it,” he said.

The role of doctors in both creating the crisis and treating its victims has also increased in the past week.

One of the report’s recommendations was to increase the quality of prescription drug monitoring programs as opioid prescribing practices come under more scrutiny. Wen said that in her own career as an emergency room doctor she overprescribed opioids.

“I have overprescribed opioids to many patients and didn’t realize it,” she said. “We want to do the right thing. We want to help our patients. If they say that they are in pain and they want help, we give it to them.”

The Maryland Patient Safety Center will hold its annual Medication Safety Conference Thursday, focusing on telling the patient side of the crisis to health care professionals.

“Everybody needs to have a real strong perspective about what’s going into this opioid thing,” said Robert Imhoff, president and CEO of the Maryland Patient Safety Center. “(Health care professionals will be able) to hear really what’s going on so they can apply that knowledge and that base to helping their patients and helping the people they come in contact.”

Journalist Sam Quinones, author of “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opioid Epidemic,” will be the keynote speaker at the conference. Imhoff said he hopes Quinones will bring national perspective about the crisis to the conference, whose audience will be about 95 percent clinicians.

The closing speech will be delivered by Baltimore sports anchor Keith Mills, who struggled with addiction and speaks to groups about breaking misconceptions of the disease.

“It’s very good for (the health care professionals) to hear from a patient perspective and what’s going on,” Imhoff said. “The patient experience is always important. The better experience they have and what’s going on is very important.”


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