The Baltimore Health Department is working to design a system to monitor how many drug treatment slots are available in the city at any moment, a plan that officials say should make it easier to get help for addiction patients.
The idea has been in the works for several years and took a step forward Wednesday when the city’s spending panel approved a grant to fund the development of software for the system.
Dr. Leana Wen, the city’s health commissioner, said that in recent months officials started making phone calls and filling out a spreadsheet to track treatment availability on a weekly basis, but they want more comprehensive data.
Addiction experts say it’s important to get people into treatment the moment they’re ready — even short delays can result in relapses or overdoses.
Wen said she worries that an emergency-room doctor might call a few providers they know and not be able to find a slot even though help was available elsewhere.
“What keeps me up at night is that that kind of missed connection might be occurring,” she said.
Wen said the system wouldn’t be a substitute for more capacity overall, but, she added, “We can do a lot better with connecting people.”
The city is getting a $270,000 grant from the Open Society Institute-Baltimore to design the tool.
Already, Wen said staff on the city’s crisis line have been able to refer to what she called the “low-tech” spreadsheet system to quickly determine if options are available.
A more comprehensive tool could eventually be made available to the public and allow medical practitioners to track patients through different treatment stages, Wen said.
The opioid crisis continues to rage in Baltimore. Between January and September, 523 people died of overdoses in the city — 80 more than in the same period the year before.
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Health officials have been scrambling to respond. They have pushed for more people to be able to use the overdose-reversing drug naloxone and are seeking to significantly boost the number of patients who can get the addiction-treatment drug buprenorphine.