A week ago today, state health officials announced that Maryland would receive $66 million in federal funding to help combat the scourge of opioid addiction.
And on Tuesday, U.S. lawmakers unveiled a bipartisan bill aimed at fighting the nation’s opioid epidemic. The bill contains some promising provisions, including a boost to treatment access for patients in rural areas and the removal of a 1960s rule that prohibits federal Medicaid reimbursement for certain inpatient treatment centers with mental illness patients.
These are welcome developments. When I met last week with Fran Phillips, newly reappointed Deputy Secretary for Public Health Services, she said opioids are Maryland’s most pressing public health problem by far. Yet she fears the sense of urgency about this crisis is waning. Let’s not forget that in 2017, drug-related deaths in Maryland rose for the seventh straight year and hit an all-time high of 2,282, with the majority linked to opioids.
Maryland’s hospitals know intimately the impact of this crisis. Recent data show that Maryland’s rate of opioid related emergency department visits is 70 percent higher than the national average.
Hospitals are acting. From 2014 to 2018, hospitals administered more than 900,000 enhanced screenings to identify potential substance use disorders. This resulted in nearly 155,000 positive screens, 65,000 interventions, and 13,500 referrals to treatment.
In addition, 100 percent of Maryland’s hospitals have committed to expanding access to naloxone, a life-saving intervention that helps remove the stigma associated with overdose.
Of course, hospitals are only part of the solution. The Governor’s Opioid Operational Command Center is at the heart of a comprehensive, statewide response that includes other stakeholders, especially those in public safety roles. It’s truly beneficial to coordinate these efforts from a central hub.
Despite this good work, it’s essential that everyone understand that when a substance use disorder patient arrives in the emergency department, the system has already failed on many other levels.
That’s why hospitals are eager to work with community partners, both on prevention and to see to it that those in need receive ongoing care and supports to overcome chronic illnesses like addiction.
Your MHA has supported the hospital field throughout this battle and we will continue to do so. Please do not hesitate to suggest ways in which we can be most helpful.