Baltimore County opioid working group calls for recovery homes, more services in draft report

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The Baltimore County Courthouse. Photo by James G. Howes, via Wikipedia.

A working group examining Baltimore County’s response to the opioid epidemic published a draft report this week with 11 recommendations for tackling the drug crisis, including the establishment of recovery homes for people battling addiction.

Currently, the county has zero.

Comprised of six medical professionals, the group said the houses provide peer support and, according to a study, increase income for people living there while decreasing substance use and incarceration rates.

“Supporting the basic needs of people in recovery–such as housing and economic stability–is an important component of combating the current opioid epidemic,” the report said.

County code requires that such centers undergo a special permitting process before they can be established, and housing advocates said that presents significant hurdles, the report said.

Other suggestions include expanding youth services in schools to prevent drug use, setting standards for addiction treatment and health clinics, calling on police to send users to treatment instead of jail and providing more family support services through the health department.

Since 2015, more than 1,000 people have fatally overdosed in Baltimore County, the report said, including 348 last year. A map in the report indicated most fatal and non-fatal overdoses have been clustered in the Southeast and Southwest corridors.

In a statement, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said that while he’s encouraged to see the number of overdose deaths decreasing–28 fewer people have died in 2019 compared with this time last year, according to state figures released earlier this week–the county has a responsibility to take further steps.

“We have a moral obligation to direct our resources toward evidence-based strategies that will save lives and help people overcome the disease of addiction,” he said.

The county is now asking the public to provide feedback on the 11 proposals. An online survey is available until Oct. 2, after which a final report will be written.

Olszewski Jr. launched the working group in May, noting that, “By any measure, this is truly a crisis, and it’s one that does not discriminate.”

The group of six doctors, which received technical assistance from the county’s Department of Health and Hopkins’ Bloomberg American Health Initiative, held two public meetings and gathered information from other health care professionals.

The county executive said in May he has budgeted for an opioid strategy coordinator in 2020, a position his transition team also recommended establishing after he won the 2018 election.

Brandon Weigel

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