BALTIMORE — He kicked his prescription painkiller habit a decade ago, and now, Odell Witherspoon tries to save others from their addictions.
“I lost quite a few people this year. I lost two people this year. Went to a funeral in June and July,” said Witherspoon. “Last year, I lost three.”
Witherspoon found help through Health Care for the Homeless in Baltimore where he received treatment without all of the blame once associated with addiction, and today, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra says his agency is adopting a similar strategy to help prevent overdoses.
“We’re not saying ‘no’ to treatments. We’re saying ‘yes’ to the evidence, and so if the evidence points us in a certain direction, if Health Care for the Homeless can show us results, we want to follow those results.”
In the last two decades, drug overdoses have shot up 250 percent primarily due to fentanyl, and with the new strategy comes new tools for treating addictions like fentanyl test strips.
“For the first time, you can now use federal funds to fund those,” said Regina LaBelle, the acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. “We encourage people to use as a harm-reduction strategy to test your drugs before you use them to make sure you know if there is dangerous, illicitly-made fentanyl in your drug. Secondly, we ended a decade-long moratorium on methadone vans---mobile methadone vans.”
They are measures to help save lives as overdose deaths have skyrocketed during the pandemic.
“We lose at least two people per day in Baltimore to overdose fatalities,” said Mayor Brandon Scott. “And in a city where most of the conversation, and rightfully so, is around violent crime, we are three times as likely to have somebody die from an overdose in Baltimore.”
Those who deal with addictions at the local level say the next step, which the feds have not signed off on yet, would be overdose prevention sites where people could use in a monitored, safe setting.