Top Baltimore leaders said City Hall has plans to create an opioid overdose office and release a public tracker for overdose-related deaths.

At a Thursday budgeting hearing for her office, Chief Administrative Officer Faith Leach said Baltimore officials have for months been working to expand services for people addicted to opioids, and hope to do so using potential settlement money from an ongoing city lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies that produced the addictive drugs.

On Thursday, The Baltimore Banner and The New York Times published a yearlong investigation detailing overdose deaths in Baltimore, which is now the center of the worst drug crisis ever seen in a major American city.

Baltimore’s death rate from 2018 to 2022 was nearly double that of any other large city; a statistic unknown by several top leaders, including Mayor Scott.

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“Often we are constantly being given information about the murder rate, the murder rate, the murder rate,” said Councilwoman Danielle McCray. Making clear that any loss of life is tragic, she said: “But we’re not talking about the three people who die every day from overdose.”

“We expect to receive significant funding from the manufacturers that causes harm in our community,” Leach responded. “We have a framework that we will ultimately be releasing for an opioid coordination office that will handle the settlement dollars that come into the city.”

That involves creating a community cabinet so that they can inform some of the investments Baltimore makes back into the community, she said, as well as creating an “opioid stat.” For years, city leaders have tracked trends through CitiStat, a database tracking everything from litter to crime trends.

McCray said she was ecstatic the city would create such a database, although there is no timeline for its completion. It’s unclear what the city’s plan would be if Baltimore doesn’t receive an opioid settlement.

“In the back of my mind, I knew that we probably had this problem worse in many other cities,” Councilman Mark Conway said at the hearing. But the report’s data was staggering, he said, concluding: “I think we have to do more. We have to do better. We have to be more creative.”

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Baltimore’s rate of deadly overdoses was high for years, but the introduction to the street market of fentanyl — a synthetic opioid — drove it to historic levels. Three people die of overdoses in Baltimore in an average day.

According to The Banner and New York Times collaboration, city leaders became consumed with other public health challenges in recent years, from an increase in homicides following the 2015 death of Freddie Gray to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A 2021 Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study that found Baltimoreans were less likely to become sick and die from COVID-19 and more likely to receive vaccines than residents in similar cities. In 2023 and for 2024 thus far, the city has seen a historic reduction in homicides as local officials worked to implement a form of focused deterrence.