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Heroin Task Force Recommends 24/7, On Demand Treatment

P. Kenneth Burns

A mayoral task force looking into Baltimore's heroin crisis says addicts should have an easier time getting treatment. The recommendation, in a report released Monday, was one of several ideas to stem the tide of heroin use and overdose deaths in the city.

Among the recommendations, the report calls for easy, immediate access to addiction counselors 24 hours a day and to develop a way to get real-time information on the number of users and available treatment.

City Health Commissioner Leana Wen said treatment for addiction should be just as available as treatment for a heart attack.

"We would never consider telling somebody with a heart attack ‘come back in three weeks when we have room in a ward to care for you,’" she said

The report, which also calls for a public awareness campaign, was released in a news conference at North Fulton and Francis streets in West Baltimore, beneath a bill board that promotes the campaign, which centers on the website The web site has information on Naloxone - also known as Narcan - a drug used to treat heroin overdoses.

Wen, an emergency room physician, said she wants to make the drug easily available.

"I have given it to literally hundreds of patients and watched as someone who has stopped breathing walk and talk again within seconds," she said.

Task Force 101

But Mike Gimbel, Baltimore County’s first drug czar, criticized the report as predictable.

"Whenever you have a government task force, you end up with the same results which is in the end they always want to gather more data, create a public awareness program, set up a hot line, have collaboration but not have actual hands on services," he said.

Gimbel, who denounced the task force as a waste of time when Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake announced it last October, called its report "a blueprint for failure."

The recovering heroin addict said members of the task force did not understand the mindset of an addict.

"What makes them tick; what motivates them; why are they using.  They didn’t understand what motivates or what happens with an addict," he said.

He dismissed the recommendations as nothing new and said they missed some things.

"There is nothing in this report about residential long-term treatment which is the only treatment that we know really, really works," he said.

He argued that Narcan should only be handled by first responders who can take an addict to a hospital for treatment and to be checked for other diseases.

"By giving Narcan to family members and addicts and they bring that person back to life; you think they’re going to run to a hospital?” he asked. “Absolutely not; they’re going to start using again.”

An Action Plan

Mayor Rawlings-Blake said the report will be put into action and not sit on some shelf.

She referred to Gimbel and other critics of the task force by saying this is the first time “all of the stakeholders came together in one accord to work to have collective impact to do something different about heroin abuse.”

The mayor said heroin addiction is a community problem.  She recalled seeing the "devastating impact" of the drug on families during her 10 years as a public defender.

"Young children would come to court because that was when they knew they could see their mother; because she had a court date," she said.

Rawlings-Blake said she will put recommendations from the task force report into action and not let them sit on a shelf.