BALTIMORE — As Republicans in Congress and the Trump White House30 miles to the south, two people overdose on opioids and die every day in Maryland’s largest city.
On a street corner in west Baltimore, the extent of the opioid epidemic that has ravaged large swaths of the country was in stark relief Wednesday against the backdrop of a brick wall emblazoned with the words “No Shoot Zone” in spray paint.
In 95-degree heat, men and women of all ages — black and white — filed one by one into a white van and dumped out bundles of used needles. Workers with the Baltimore City Health Department handed out brown paper bags containing clean syringes, cookers, filters and rubber bands in exchange. Those who came to turn in their old equipment were users of heroin, fentanyl and carfentanil, a toxic synthetic opioid.
Three longtime staffers also doled out Narcan nasal spray containing, the drug that has been used to save countless lives by reversing the effects of overdoses. Baltimore can barely meet demand for the drug, rationing doses as funding has failed to keep pace with demand.
The opioid epidemic has ravaged Maryland, where the number of deaths from drug- and alcohol-related overdoses increased by 66 percent in 2016. Roughly a third of overdose deaths occur in Baltimore.
Stephanie Williams, 57, is one of 1.3 million people in Maryland who rely on Medicaid to cover her health care costs. She left the van on Wednesday with an appointment at a medication-assisted treatment program within walking distance from her home. Williams has been in treatment before and relapsed, but she’s confident about her chances at recovery this time around. As a Medicaid patient, her treatment costs her nothing.
“Thank all you good people so much,” Williams said to the staff before leaving the van. “You don’t know how much I pray for this.”
Wednesday’s event was part of the city’s needle exchange program, administered by the health department and funded through a patchwork of state, federal and private money.
Programs like it — and addicts like Williams — face an uncertain future as negotiations continue on Capitol Hill and the Trump White House appears unable or unwilling to…