Baltimore County, suffering one of the highest drug overdose death tolls in Maryland, will spend up to $3 million to renovate a building at the former Rosewood Center state hospital campus to create an on-demand drug treatment center.
County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said Wednesday that the Owings Mills facility will have 70 beds and accommodate about 300 people a year. It’s expected to open in November 2019.
“We need to provide treatment on demand for people who are ready to say, ‘I need help,’” said Kamenetz, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor. “And then, when that person is ready to change, we’re going to make sure help is immediately available.”
The county-owned building was used for years as a treatment center until 2015. Today it’s an office space for health department employees.
Kamenetz said the county will issue a request for quotations to find a private organization to run the center in partnership with the county. Officials said they did not know how much it will cost to operate.
Kamenetz is set to leave office after completing his second term in December. He noted that the county has seen significant increases in opioid deaths in recent years, many related to the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl.
Baltimore County had 238 opioid-related deaths in the first nine months of last year, the most recent period for which state data is available. It was the second most deaths in Maryland after Baltimore.
Kamenetz appeared at a press conference at Rosewood with Dr. Gregory Wm. Branch, the county’s health officer, and other officials.
The county is seeing more drug-exposed newborns and children in foster care as a result of the epidemic, Branch said.
“We are devoted to fighting this battle,” he said.
Kamenetz and Branch said the Rosewood plan is one part of their strategy to combat drug abuse. They said the county has also focused on distributing naloxone, a medication used to reverse overdose symptoms, and supporting police in fighting illegal drug networks.
The county filed a federal lawsuit against pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors last week, alleging they misrepresented the risk of addiction associated with painkillers.
Mike Gimbel, the former director of the Baltimore County Office of Substance Abuse and now a private consultant, asked why the previous treatment facility was shut down. Gimbel opened the facility nearly three decades ago when he worked for the county.
“I think this is a total political stunt,” Gimbel said. Kamenetz, he said, “is trying to re-open [the facility] a month before the primary.”
Greg Warren is regional director of Gaudenzia, which provided treatment at Rosewood. He told The Baltimore Sun on Wednesday that county officials “asked us to leave” in 2015. At the time, he said, the facility had about 35 patients.
He said county officials told Gaudenzia they needed to “repurpose the building.”
Branch said Gaudenzia “informed us they were going to leave these facilities.” The county then helped Gaudenzia move out early, Branch said, because the health department needed to transfer workers to the Rosewood campus because it lacked parking at its Drumcastle Center offices in Towson.
About 60 health department employees now use the Rosewood facility as office space, Branch said.
Howard Ashkin, president of the Maryland Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence, said he was glad that Baltimore County will again use the location for treatment. The association represents providers of medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction.
“In the area they’re proposing the services, it would fill a void,” Ashkin said. “That Rosewood campus is easily accessible.”
Ashkin said it’s important for people to have access to a variety of treatment services.
“The hope is that the selected vendor will work closely with [outpatient] providers to enhance the patients’ recovery when they return to their homes in community,” he said. “Treatment doesn’t stop when the patient leaves the inpatient facility.”