Gov. Larry Hogan on Wednesday declared the ongoing heroin epidemic an emergency, and pledged to make more resources available to combat the issue. (Ian Duncan / Baltimore Sun)
Regarding the March 3, "If addiction is a disease, why haven't we cured it?": It makes no sense to say that because addiction lacks a cure, it is not a disease. There are thousands of diseases with no known cure, including chronic diseases such as heart disease and infectious viruses such as HIV.
Every major medical organization endorses the scientific fact that addiction is a chronic brain disease. According to the surgeon general, addiction will affect one in seven people in their lifetimes. Addiction treatment is proven to be effective, and millions of people are living examples that recovery is possible. This is no different than the disease of diabetes — while there may not be a cure, treatment exists and enables people to live their lives.
The author questions why overdose rates are climbing. Unfortunately, the deadly drug, fentanyl, is driving this increase. In Baltimore City, the number of people dying from fentanyl has increased more than 20 times in the last two years. Fentanyl is 100 times stronger than heroin.
There is no doubt that we must do more to combat the epidemic of opioid overdose and addiction. Only 1 in 10 people with the disease of addiction are able to get the help they need. We need to increase treatment capacity so that those with the disease can get treatment, at the time they need, just as they would if they had any other disease. We need to make the overdose antidote, naloxone, available to everyone; since 2015, everyday people have already used it to save over 800 lives in our city. Criminalizing and further stigmatizing people with addiction has not and will not work.
No cure does not mean no disease. It means that there is an even more urgent call to action to save lives now.
Mark O'Brien and Dr. Leana S. Wen, Baltimore
Mr. O'Brien is the Baltimore City Health Department's director of opioid overdose prevention and treatment, and Dr. Wen is Baltimore City health commissioner.