City and state officials plan to announce Wednesday that they’ve secured funding for a stabilization center in Baltimore that would serve as a safe place where drug users can go when they are intoxicated to get medical treatment and links to other social services.
The center, the first in Maryland, would primarily serve the city, which has the state’s highest rate of overdoses. It will open next spring in the old Hebrew Orphan Asylum in the Mosher neighborhood, though a pilot center will open nearby on Monday.
Health officials hope that the center will help keep people out of emergency rooms when their conditions are not acute. The center’s medical staff will not just treat any immediate medical condition, but will offer services for any long-term substance abuse and mental health issues.
The Baltimore City Health Department and Behavioral Health System Baltimore, which manages the city’s mental health services, secured $3.6 million in capital funds in the state budget to build the center. Maryland’s Department of Health is providing $2.6 million for operating expenses.
In the budget passed Tuesday, the General Assembly also restored $8 million that Gov. Larry Hogan’s original budget cut from spending for mental health and substance use disorder services. Behavioral health advocates said the cut would have hurt efforts to address an opioid epidemic that has gripped the country and not yet reached its peak.
Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana S. Wen described the stabilization center as a 24/7 emergency room for addiction and mental health.
“We are in the middle of a national epidemic for opioid addiction and overdose and yet we are still treating people with the disease of addiction different than anyone with any other disease,” Wen said. “The stabilization center is one step in the direction of on-demand, evidence-based and compassionate treatment for people with the disease of addiction.”
Maryland experienced 1,501 opioid-related deaths from January to September last year, including 1,173 deaths tied to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin, according to the Maryland Department of Health. The largest number of deaths were in Baltimore, where 523 people overdosed between January and September, 80 more than the year before.
The old Hebrew Orphan Asylum on Rayner Avenue is undergoing renovation to serve as the center.
A pilot center, which will open Monday, will operate at Tuerk House in a building next door on Ashburton Avenue until the new space is completed. Tuerk House is a residential treatment center.
The city’s Board of Estimates approved a 15-year-lease for the Hebrew Orphan Asylum last year, but didn’t have the funding to renovate the property or to operate the center.
People will have to be brought to the center by ambulance and emergency medical technicians will decide who fits the criteria for services at the center, Wen said. The center will not take walk-ins.
City officials said the center will be a safe place for people who are under the influence of drugs and alcohol to sober up and receive short-term medical and social interventions. It also will provide medical screening and monitoring and connections to behavioral health and social services. Patients who need it also will be introduced to buprenorphine, an alternative drug used to treat opioid addiction.
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Scott Nolen, director of the addiction and health equity program at Open Society Institute-Baltimore, said it is important that the center is more than a place for people to go and get sober. Connecting people to social services as the city has described is crucial, he said.
“We hope this is a space that will go beyond treating the immediate crisis related to substance use, but also helps give the person what they need to stabilize their life,” Nolen said.