In response to The Baltimore Banner article, “Almost 6,000 dead: How Baltimore became the U.S. overdose capital,” the present is bleak, but the future is bright.

Substance use disorder is a preventable and treatable disease. It is a shameful commentary on our society that we have become desensitized to the sight of people overdosing on the streets. We cannot continue to accept this.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine uses dimensional criteria to determine the appropriate level of care based on the impact of addiction on an individual’s life. These dimensions include intoxication, withdrawal, addiction medication, biomedical conditions, psychiatric and cognitive conditions, substance use-related risks, recovery environment interactions, and person-centered considerations. Maryland mandates that treatment providers evaluate every potential client using the ASAM criteria and place them in services that address their specific health needs to provide the best chance of recovery.

New programs proliferated during the COVID pandemic as misuse of substances also increased, but oversight was lacking. All programs must be reviewed for quality and compliance. The only thing worse than no treatment is inadequate treatment, which leaves patients, families and communities disillusioned about the potential benefits of recovery.

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As president of the Maryland Addiction Directors Council for the past five years, I have witnessed firsthand the devastation caused by the drugs fentanyl and xylazine. Treatment must be accessible. This must happen before a person reaches a crisis point.

Traditional treatment models are evolving to incorporate harm reduction, peer engagement and the integration of safe sober housing and recovery residences, along with behavioral health care services. Innovative approaches such as yoga, equine therapy, art therapy, dance therapy and traditional storytelling practices are also part of the treatment experience at some providers. Overdose prevention sites can save lives and should also be considered.

Many providers are eager to help, but obstacles persist. The process to open additional treatment is long and bureaucratic. Zoning and fire inspections can take months. We are losing this fight. Daily. Hourly. In the time it takes to read this letter, someone in Baltimore is suffering an overdose. This person is someone’s brother, sister, mother, father, neighbor, child. The cycle continues. We must act now to save our community. Baltimore cannot afford to wait any longer.

Craig Lippens is president of the Maryland Addiction Directors Council and program administrator at One Promise Counseling and DUI Education.