Baltimore to Rate Hospitals on Opioid Response

 Gaby Galvin

ELEVEN Baltimore city hospitals soon will be scored on how prepared they are to respond to the opioid epidemic, the city's health department announced Monday.

Acute care hospitals will be assessed on criteria such as whether they can "provide treatment for patients who screen positive for addiction, distribute naloxone to patients, connect patients with peers or other support services, and ensure physicians are prescribing opioids judiciously," according to a release on the initiative.

Each hospital will be categorized on a scale of 1 to 3 based on how wide-ranging its response plan is, with a level 1 rating indicating a hospital's opioid response is the most comprehensive and 3 the least.

The plan, developed with input from the area's hospitals, is meant to bolster hospitals' role in fighting the opioid epidemic.

"Hospitals alone cannot end this epidemic, but it cannot be ended without them," Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen said in a statement. "Addiction is a disease and treatment exists. Together, we will build upon the work that's already been done and make Baltimore City a national model for treating addiction alongside every other disease. That means treating addiction in our traditional health care institutions, including hospitals."

The initiative, dubbed Levels of Care for Baltimore City Hospitals Responding to the Opioid Epidemic, is part of the city's broader efforts to curb Baltimore's high rates of opioid-related deaths. According to a report from Johns Hopkins University, 523 people died in the first three quarters of 2017 from opioid-related intoxication, up from 443 during the same period in 2016.

Baltimore hospitals already screen patients for substance abuse and can connect them with "peer recovery specialists," among other interventions, according to the health department. And in 2015, the city was the first in Maryland to issue a blanket prescription for all residents for naloxone, the overdose reversal drug commonly sold as Narcan.

Baltimore's Levels of Care initiative is based on a similar program in Rhode Island, where drug overdose deaths declined slightly last year.

The components of Baltimore's program will be finalized this summer, officials said, and the initiative is open for public comment through May 31.

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