Help Prevent Drug Use during National Prevention Week

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Near the kick-off of summer, National Prevention Week (NPW) runs May 13-19 – the perfect time for communities to come together and rally around prevention. The week is a SAMHSA-sponsored annual health observance that helps raise awareness about the importance of preventing substance use.

Everyone can take part in NPW. This year’s theme is “Action Today. Healthier Tomorrow.” This theme is intended to remind us that simple, daily acts of prevention – like helping a friend make positive choices – can lead to healthier lives for us all.

Here at the Talbot County Health Department Prevention Office, we support our community and our youth in making positive choices when it comes to drug and alcohol use. Most teens don’t use illegal drugs or alcohol – instead, they focus on their futures, schools, hobbies, families, etc.  You can participate in NPW by spreading the word that most teens make healthy choices and by encouraging others to think twice about taking risks with their health and safety.

The longer children can delay drinking and drug use, the less likely they are to develop problems.Parents can make a difference – that’s why it is so important to help your child connect the dots and make smart decisions.

To learn more about how to prevent alcohol and other drug use or abuse in your child, contact Alexandra Duff, Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Prevention Supervisor at Talbot County Health Department, at 410-819-5600.

The Talbot County Health Department Prevention Office helps community groups, agencies and individuals in providing programs and activities to prevent alcohol, tobacco and other drug abuse, and to build a healthier community. Resources include parenting skills, video and resource loan library, awareness campaigns and educational workshops.

Recovery: Upcoming Addictions Training at Hope Fellowship

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The opioid epidemic has left healthcare providers and community outreaches looking for new ways to engage people in treatment. Often addicts are also struggling with mental health and social challenges. Special populations that have low literacy abilities or difficulty expressing themselves may slip through the cracks of standard treatment.

Seeking creative solutions, counselor Melissa Stuebing developed the “Literacy-Free 12 Step Expressive Arts Therapy” curriculum under the editorial oversight of Dr. Lauren Littlefield. It was made for people with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders, as well as for illiterate participants and those with self-expression difficulties.

It integrates cognitive behavioral techniques and different expressive arts modalities as means of working through the 12 Steps of addiction recovery. It has since been the subject of 4 clinical studies which found it to promote engagement in treatment. Participants had much higher completion/ retention rates, lower drop-out rates and enrollment in follow up services than non-participants.

“The A. F. Whitsitt Center started incorporating the “Literacy Free 12 Step Expressive Arts Therapy” curriculum into our regular activities schedule several years ago. We consistently get good feedback from the patients and the trainers enjoy leading the sessions.” says Andrew Pons, CAC-AD, clinical director. A.F. Whitsitt Center is an inpatient rehabilitation facility that specializes in treatment for co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders.

“The curriculum is beneficial because it teaches those with all the different types of learning styles. I always receive great feedback from participants. They appreciate the change of pace from the lecture format and enjoy being able to express themselves using the different types of media”, remarks counselor Julia Garris.

It is also being used at Kent County Crisis Beds. “Many patients are anxiety ridden and typical verbal skills is a challenge. Melissa’s curriculum allows patients to share their feelings and stabilize in a more natural and comfortable manner.” says Alice Barkley, LCSW-C, crisis beds manager.

There will be 2 upcoming trainings in “Literacy-Free 12 Step Expressive Arts Therapy” on May 8th and September 20th held by Melissa Davis Stuebing, MA, CAC-AD at Hope Fellowship 892 Washington Ave in Chestertown, MD. This program has
been endorsed by the MD Board of Professional Counselors and Therapists for 6 CEUs.

Register at www.CoLaborersInternational.com/ExpressiveArts

Recovery: Upcoming Addictions Training at Hope Fellowship

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The opioid epidemic has left healthcare providers and community outreaches looking for new ways to engage people in treatment. Often addicts are also struggling with mental health and social challenges. Special populations that have low literacy abilities or difficulty expressing themselves may slip through the cracks of standard treatment.

Seeking creative solutions, counselor Melissa Stuebing developed the “Literacy-Free 12 Step Expressive Arts Therapy” curriculum under the editorial oversight of Dr. Lauren Littlefield. It was made for people with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders, as well as for illiterate participants and those with self-expression difficulties.

It integrates cognitive behavioral techniques and different expressive arts modalities as means of working through the 12 Steps of addiction recovery. It has since been the subject of 4 clinical studies which found it to promote engagement in treatment. Participants had much higher completion/ retention rates, lower drop-out rates and enrollment in follow up services than non-participants.

“The A. F. Whitsitt Center started incorporating the “Literacy Free 12 Step Expressive Arts Therapy” curriculum into our regular activities schedule several years ago. We consistently get good feedback from the patients and the trainers enjoy leading the sessions.” says Andrew Pons, CAC-AD, clinical director. A.F. Whitsitt Center is an inpatient rehabilitation facility that specializes in treatment for co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders.

“The curriculum is beneficial because it teaches those with all the different types of learning styles. I always receive great feedback from participants. They appreciate the change of pace from the lecture format and enjoy being able to express themselves using the different types of media”, remarks counselor Julia Garris.

It is also being used at Kent County Crisis Beds. “Many patients are anxiety ridden and typical verbal skills is a challenge. Melissa’s curriculum allows patients to share their feelings and stabilize in a more natural and comfortable manner.” says Alice Barkley, LCSW-C, crisis beds manager.

There will be 2 upcoming trainings in “Literacy-Free 12 Step Expressive Arts Therapy” on May 8th and September 20th held by Melissa Davis Stuebing, MA, CAC-AD at Hope Fellowship 892 Washington Ave in Chestertown, MD. This program has
been endorsed by the MD Board of Professional Counselors and Therapists for 6 CEUs.

Register at CoLaborersInternational.com/ExpressiveArts

Recovery: Healing Through Art at the Raimond Building in Chestertown

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Art is perhaps at its best when it heals the human soul. While there remains an aesthetic enjoyment that comes from both the artist and his/her audience in most work of art, the use of visual creativity to help people overcome loss and addiction is a particularly forceful phenomenon.

That was the impression when the Spy stopped by the Vincent & Leslie Prince Raimond Arts Building yesterday for a look the recent art exhibition sponsored by the Kent County Art Council new show entitled “Heroin and Healing” curated by Baltimore artist Peter Brunn.

As the father of a daughter lost to a heroin overdose, Brunn is not a passive bystander in this show.  While it includes six remarkable artists that have used photography, video and visual art to express their journey of healing and recovery from their own addiction or those of loved ones, it is Peter’s work that the Spy found the most powerful.

An example of this is the overwhelming forceful visual graph entitled Toshio Hosakawa, Landscape II, which charts the extraordinarily painful journal of daughter Elisif’s arc of depression and addiction, ending with the unimaginable phone call Brunn received informing him of his daughter’s death with the words from a stranger saying, “Hello, is this Peter?”

This video is approximately one minute in length. “Heroin and Healing” will be on display at the Raimond Art Building 101 Spreing Avenue in Chestertown from March 2 to March 31. A Film and Discussion on the topic is scheduled for March 30 at Norman James Theatre at Washington College. For more information please go here

 

 

Chesapeake Charities Awards Luncheon Spotlights Opioid Crisis

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Talbot County Sheriff Joe Gamble receives Chesapeake Charities Volunteer of the Year award from Lt. Governor Boyd Rutherford, with wife Mary Gamble and son, Josh Gamble.

Lt. Governor Boyd Rutherford recognized the outstanding work being done to combat the heroin, opioid and fentanyl crisis, including that of Talbot County Sheriff Joe Gamble, at Chesapeake Charities’ packed awards luncheon last month in Stevensville.

Sheriff Gamble was honored as Volunteer of the Year for his tireless commitment to prevention and education efforts in Talbot County. Accepting the award, Gamble talked about the shock of learning that high school students he had once coached had become heroin addicts, and the desperate parents who asked him for help. Realizing the need for prevention, he inspired his community to take action, starting the “Talbot Goes Purple” campaign with Talbot Rotary to raise awareness in the schools about the dangers of prescription opioids. “Every business, every family that we approached for help has been impacted by this epidemic,” Gamble said.

Joe Gamble talks about “Talbot Goes Purple” at Celebration of Charity awards luncheon.

More than 190 people from the Eastern Shore, Anne Arundel and Calvert counties listened to stories of heartbreak and hope in the heroin and opioid epidemic. “This crisis is on everyone’s mind,” said Chesapeake Charities Executive Director Linda Kohler. “We thought it made sense to use our annual event as a kind of forum for the community to focus on solutions and share a message of encouragement and inspiration.” This was the 2nd annual Celebration of Charity event hosted by Chesapeake Charities.

The event program also included tributes to Bernie Fowler, Jr., founder of Farming4Hunger, as Philanthropist of the Year, and Samaritan House of Annapolis as Nonprofit of the Year. Fowler, who employs and trains former addicts and inmates to grow food and feed the hungry, was inspired to do something because of his painful experience with his daughter’s heroin addiction.

Mike Goldfaden, Executive Director of Samaritan House, heads up the men’s 25-bed long term residential recovery program. Goldfaden said there is at least a 30-day waiting list to get into Samaritan House and talked about their plans for doubling the size of the facility in 2018.

Keynote speaker Lisa Hillman told the story of her family’s experience with her son’s drug addiction and recovery. She advised families of addicts to tell someone about the problem and consider joining Al-Anon. Hillman pointed out critical areas for change: longer treatment times for addicts, more transitional housing to move addicts back into society, earlier education about addiction at the 5th, 6th and 7th grade levels

Chesapeake Charities Board Chair Audrey Scott announced that Chesapeake Charities has established The First Responders Fund to support heroin and opioid emergency response efforts for local fire, police, emergency and medical personnel. Provisions will include equipment, supplies and training needed to protect first responders. For more information about the fund or to apply for funding, contact info@chesapeakecharities.org.

A community foundation located in Stevensville, Chesapeake Charities supports a wide range of charitable causes including arts, education, health and human services, animal welfare, and the environment. All of its 85 component funds have a common cause – a passion for making a difference in their communities. Chesapeake Charities serves organizations in Anne Arundel, Calvert, Caroline, Charles, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties. They have invested more than $9 million in the Chesapeake Bay region since 2005.

For more information, contact Chesapeake Charities at (410) 643-4020 or info@chesapeakecharities.org, or visit their website. Chesapeake Charities is accredited by the National Standards for U.S. Community Foundations.

(Photo credits: Executive Office of the Governor, Joe Andrucyk)

Recovery: Self Care for the Selfless by Erin Hill

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Are you a giver?

You know the ones – they spend all day caring for others. Making sure the kids are up and ready, the hubs has his lunch, the dog is walked and fed, and the cat hasn’t left any presents… then they’re off to their job where they provide more care for others, be it nursing, social work, customer service, retail, etc. Once they get home, it’s mail-sorting, homework helping, dinner making, cleaning up, then – finally – bed. If you’re in a relationship that includes a dynamic of addiction, it can be compounded as well.

When does she take some time for herself?

It seems like we live in a world of busy-ness. There’s always more stuff to do and not enough hours in the day. Admittedly, we can bring some of that stress on ourselves by not asking for help, and/or allowing others to not do their part. We can get so busy taking care of others, that we forget to take care of ourselves, and at the end of the day, when we’re exhausted, and all the things are done (or maybe not) we might have a brief realization – “what about me?” – and cue the violin – the sad song of a wife, mother, worker who is running on empty because she gave “it” all away. Then she wonders:

“Why is nobody taking care of me?”… and that includes her.

The frustration that stems from giving too much, without taking some time to recharge can show up in various ways – as unique as each of us: it can look like weight gain, getting ‘stuck’, smoking, wasting time on your phone, bitterness and anger which might = picking fights with the hubby – all of these at the core – are patterns.

Those patterns are what we do when we feel like we aren’t getting enough for ourselves – when we are looking for ways to draw attention to the fact that we need something. For example: I was a smoker, and would say “that’s the only time I have for myself”. Or when playing a game on my phone – “I just needed some time to turn my brain off”.

We can dive so far into everyone else that we lose sight of who WE are.

Breaking down those patterns is one of the most significant ways you can move forward, and get back to the real YOU.

Good news: it’s not as hard as you think!!

First, and arguably most importantly – you have to notice what your patterns are – identify what you’re doing that you’d like to change. Maybe you dump all your stuff on the kitchen table as soon as you walk in the door. Or perhaps your drug of choice is peanut butter m&ms and fritos (ask me how I know!). It could be that you get lost in Facebook land scrolling through everyone else’s ‘perfect life’ and looking at cat videos.

You know yourself best – be realistic, but challenge yourself.

The change you want to make should be a bit of a stretch – not so much that it hurts, but that you feel the tug. Really take an inventory of what happens from the moment you open your eyes, to the time you finally close them again at the end of the day. What thoughts are you thinking? What things are bringing you joy? What things are NOT bringing you joy?

Be sure to spend some time really thinking and feeling how life would change if this pattern was different.

How would your life be better if you changed this pattern? You may find it helpful to write it down – maybe a pros/cons list would help you see the potential changes. You can also use visualization. Get super descriptive and use all of your senses to describe the differences between life if you keep going in the direction you’re headed, versus living the life you’ve always dreamed. Use all of your senses to feel how life would be like if you keep on this path, or make some changes to your trajectory.

You don’t have to be realistic here – you can shoot for the moon!

Using that information, you can use that to identify WHY you want to change your pattern. Maybe your best life looks like a minimalist lifestyle where you wake up with gratitude, do yoga on your porch facing the Caribbean Ocean, then have an organic breakfast in solitude. Or – you wake up to children who don’t have to be told a million times to put their shoes on or they’ll be going to school barefoot. Using your “dream life” as a guide, you can start to see how you can begin to make small changes today.

Remember – baby steps are OK!

Maybe instead of fuming about all the dishes piled up, you ask for your kids or hubby to give you a hand (Hint: could be a good connection/communication moment). If it helps you to feel less like a maid – take 5 or 10 minutes every evening to be sure that you (or the kids) put their shoes, books, etc. where they will be easily accessed. On the weekends, have everyone pitch in and whip out the cleaning in a fraction of the time it would take you alone. Give yourself some space to make a different choice versus following the habitual path, and ask for those around you to support you. *It will probably be uncomfortable at first – but it will get better! Keep at it!

It’s really about progress.

You’ll learn quickly what works for you – what feels good – but you have to give it a try (and not just poo poo it because it seems (or is) uncomfortable!). Remember – nothing changes if nothing changes – and although I hate to break it to you – there’s no magic wand that makes doing the work easy. Support can definitely make it easier though.

When you share the load, it’s not quite so heavy.

Even I have to remind myself – “I can’t pour from an empty cup”. As givers, it feels funny to start taking care of ourselves, but I can promise – as you take better care of YOU – then you are prepared to give even more, and from a place of fullness.

Interested in ‘trying on’ a few different self care practices? I’m hosting an online, virtual sisterhood in July that I’d love you to be a part of! You can get all the information by clicking here. This opportunity is valued at over $1,000 but the registration fee is only $31 – that’s only a dollar a day! If you have a group of 5, registration per person is only $25 each, and 10 people can be part of the group for just $20 each. *Email me for registration for groups (and if you have any questions) at erin@beautiulmesslife.com

A Beautiful Mess was created by Erin Hill to educate and inspire women to Care for themselves, Communicate their needs, and Connect with their tribe of women who “get it”. Erin is a coach for women and blogger about life. She lives in Cambridge Maryland with her husband and 3 children. More information can be found at www.beautifulmesslife.com

Recovery: Maryland Approves Pharmacies Dispensing Naloxone

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The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene recently announced that Dr. Howard Haft, the agency’s Deputy Secretary for Public Health, issued a new statewide standing order that allows pharmacies to dispense naloxone, the non-addictive lifesaving drug that can reverse an opioid overdose, to all Maryland citizens. The order follows legislation passed by the Maryland General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Larry Hogan that included a Hogan administration proposal to enable all citizens to access naloxone. Previously, naloxone was available only to those trained and certified under the Maryland Overdose Response Program.

“As the opioid epidemic has evolved, we have worked steadily to expand access to naloxone,” said Dr. Haft. “Pharmacies play an important role in providing access to naloxone and counseling on how to recognize and respond to an opioid overdose. This order is yet another tool to fight this crisis and to provide immediate assistance to overdose victims.”

The Heroin and Opioid Prevention Effort (HOPE) and Treatment Act, a bipartisan omnibus bill passed during the 2017 legislative session that contains provisions to improve patient education and increase treatment services, included the Hogan administration’s proposed Overdose Prevention Act. This updated standing order resulting from the new law further eliminates barriers to naloxone access for anyone who may be at risk of opioid overdose or in a position to assist someone experiencing an opioid overdose.

“By allowing even more people access to naloxone, we’re helping to save lives,” said Clay Stamp, executive director of the Opioid Operational Command Center. “We must remember though, that ultimately, those suffering from the disease of addiction or substance use disorder must be linked to additional treatment to aid in their recovery.”

Single doses of naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, have been demonstrated as effective in reversing a heroin overdose. However, more potent drugs such as fentanyl tend to require multiple doses to reverse an overdose. Emergency services—calling 911 or taking someone to a hospital’s emergency department—should always be sought in an overdose situation.

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s 2016 Drug-and Alcohol-Related Intoxication Deaths in Maryland Report, released earlier this month, revealed that 2,089 individuals died from overdoses last year, a 66 percent increase from 2015’s data. For more information on opioid overdose recognition and response, click here.

In March, Governor Hogan declared a State of Emergency in response to the heroin and opioid crisis ravaging communities in Maryland and across the country. This declaration activated the governor’s emergency management authority and enables increased and more rapid coordination between the state and local jurisdictions. The Opioid Operational Command Center, established by Governor Hogan in January through an Executive Order, facilitates collaboration between state and local public health, human services, education, and public safety entities to combat the heroin and opioid crisis and its effects on Maryland communities.

Before It’s Too Late is the state’s effort to bring awareness to this epidemic—and to mobilize resources for effective prevention, treatment, and recovery. Marylanders grappling with a substance use disorder can find help at BeforeItsTooLateMD.org and 1-800-422-0009, the state crisis hotline. 

Rally for Recovery Draws Strong Showing

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Recovery for Shore’s Rally for Recovery, held Saturday June 3 in downtown Easton, drew a diverse crowd of those in recovery and their family and friends along with many treatment providers and representatives of other recovery support organizations. The event began at 3:30 p.m. with a march from Christ Church Easton on South Street, up Washington Street to the Talbot County Courthouse. The block between Dover and Goldsborough was closed to traffic from 4-4:30 p.m. so that the rally, which included cheers, speakers and prize presentations for the best rally sign, could take place. The event continued with the group’s return to Christ Church for the Alive at Five service followed by fellowship and refreshments on the lawn.

Bonnie Scott, founder of Rising Above Disease, addressing the Rally crowd. To her left is Keith Richards, Rally for Recovery emcee.

According to Sharon Dundon, program specialist for Shore Behavioral Health’s Addictions Program and ad hoc coordinator for Recovery for Shore, crowd estimates varied from 150 to 180. “The exact number was hard to gauge as many people floated in and out over the course of the event, but there was no doubt about the enthusiasm of those who were there,” says Dundon.

Rally participants brought creative, colorful homemade signs with positive messages about recovery.

The recovery cheers at the Courthouse — along the lines of “We cheer, we lead, we know there’s a need!” and “Say it loud, say it clear – Recovery helps, recovery’s here!” — brought onlookers out of shops and restaurants. Remarks offered by emcee Keith Richardson, of Warwick Manor, and the event’s keynote speaker, Bonnie Scott, founder of the Rising Against Disease recovery house for women in Talbot County, drew enthusiastic applause and shout-outs from rally participants.

“Bonnie’s talk, including her description of losing a son to heroin overdose, was equal parts moving, informative and inspiring,” Dundon said. “During the walk back to Christ Church, rally goers were talking about how heartfelt it was and how grateful they were for the information she offered about finding help for those who still suffer and the hope she offered by sharing her experiences as an advocate.”

The Alive at Five Service featured the inspirational music of the Alive at Five band and guest speaker Cindy Keefe, who talked about her 20-year journey in recovery and the support she has received from the local recovery community. Fellowship on the lawn, including tables offering information about recovery resources and a wide menu of donated refreshments — from pizza to crab dip and dessert and Rise Up Coffee — lasted until 7:30 p.m.

“We had great support from the Town of Easton, the Easton police and dozens of volunteers who brought food and recovery resource information and also helped with set up and clean up,” Dundon says. “All of us in Recovery for Shore are very grateful for the outpouring of support and enthusiasm, and for Christ Church’s generosity in hosting the celebration after the Rally. Our hope is that those willing to ‘recover out loud’ will do so as it can help decrease the stigma associated with addiction, inspire others to seek help earlier and brings awareness to the vast recovery happening in our community.”

Opioid Crisis Rural Maryland’s Worst Problem

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DENTON — If there is one hopeful thing about Maryland’s opioid crisis, it’s that no one is denying the obvious.

“Very honestly nothing is working,” said Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins. “It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen.”

For rural areas where communities are small and the stigma is large, opioids can be particularly insidious. The guy who jumped out of the moving ambulance after getting revived by naloxone might be an old high school classmate. The woman selling drugs at the hospital to fellow addicts could be the little sister of a good friend.

The epidemic is also a serious drag on government and medical resources in places where budgets are already stretched. Then there’s the psychic toll, especially on police, ambulance and hospital workers who slug it out on the front lines, often with the same addicts, day after day.

But while the opioid crisis appears to be kicking Maryland’s rural populations while they’re down, the silver lining might be in the size and inherent closeness of those communities, which are beginning to coordinate efforts to combat opioids in ways that simply aren’t possible in the state’s more populated counties.

Localizing the problem

“In our small area, opioids affect pretty much every family one way or another,” said Tommy Conneely, who runs the Lost Sheep Recovery Mission in Caroline County and said he has been seven years sober from alcohol.

Caroline, like other rural counties, is beginning to harmonize their anti-opioid efforts across a wide range of public, private and faith-based groups. The county’s drug and alcohol abuse council includes a diverse collection of law enforcement, education, substance abuse and mental health officials.

And people like Conneely, who, as an ex-cop now involved in faith-based recovery efforts, brings a wholly unique perspective.

The Caroline drug council is in the midst of a series of events hosted at volunteer fire departments, where the FBI documentary “Chasing the Dragon” is being shown, followed by a discussion initiated by former addicts and their parents.

“We found that we had a lot of family members (attend) who had loved ones in active addiction who needed support,” said Holly Ireland, executive director of Mid-Shore Behavioral Health, a referral and planning agency that receives some state funding and operates in Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties.

“What we haven’t quite figured out is how to tackle engaging the community that is addicted,” Ireland added.

In Harford County, which has one of the highest opioid-related per capita death rates in Maryland, the approach is also multifaceted. They’ve got drug education happening in elementary schools, a prescription return program, rehab for opioid-addicted mothers, a special opiate court and a host of other initiatives.

“We broke down barriers between the sheriff, the board of education, the health department and worked together to go into schools,” said County Executive Barry Glassman, R-Harford. “Our program was recognized by the National Association of Counties for the way it was opened up to the whole county to be part of it.”


And yet Harford’s opioid-related death rates have gone up in almost every category since 2014.

“We’re not gonna give up, but it’s gonna be one of those long-term struggles,” Glassman said. “It’s a generational thing that might take 20 years before we get a grip on it.”

Last August, Barry Ronan, president and CEO of Western Maryland Health System, joined an opioid task force that brought together a similarly wide cross-section of people in Allegany County.

It happened after Ronan was forced to ask that a police officer be stationed in Western Maryland’s emergency room from 3 p.m. to 7 a.m. every day to deal with the surge of sometimes violent addicts arriving for treatment.

“Our staff was being spit upon, assaulted, equipment was being broken,” he said.

In the past two years, Western Maryland Health has spent nearly $1.5 million in additional costs from opioid-related patient treatment.

“(The opioid crisis) eats up a lot of resources,” said Allegany County Sheriff Craig Robertson. “It takes away the ability for us to do normal law enforcement functions like checks on high-crime areas and speeding enforcement.”

The Allegany task force that includes Ronan and Robertson now meets monthly to coordinate efforts and share ideas.

“Trying to address this from a community perspective has paid off,” said Ronan, at least in terms of unifying the county’s approach. Ronan mentioned things like putting mental health professionals in ambulances as one of the efforts the group is now trying.

“Over the last few months, we’ve seen a slight decline in the OD numbers, which is encouraging,” Ronan said.

Emergency state

In 2016, there were 918 heroin-related deaths in Maryland through September according to the state’s health department, up 23 percent from the total in 2015 and up nearly 60 percent from 2014’s total.

Scarier still is the sudden rise in the use of fentanyl and carfentanil, synthetic opioids that can be more than 1,000 times stronger than morphine and are often mixed with heroin, to fatal effect. Fentanyl-related deaths increased nearly 120 percent between 2015 and the first nine months of 2016, to 738 statewide.

On March 1, Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency around the state’s opioid epidemic, committing $50 million over five years to the problem. It was the latest escalation in a series of his administration’s efforts to slow the state’s opioid death toll, which continued to rise in 2016, according to the latest reporting.

What Hogan’s emergency edict calls for is an action plan to be made and then implemented across a slew of state and local agencies throughout Maryland.

The effort is being led by Clay Stamp, the governor’s senior adviser for emergency management and the former director of emergency services for Talbot County, a rural area on the Eastern Shore.

“Education and prevention will move the needle,” said Stamp. “What it does is remove the demand from supply and demand.”

Stamp also said that public health will be the focus of the state’s plan, and likened the scale and approach of forthcoming efforts to those that were used for anti-smoking and HIV education in the past.

Some argue the state’s entire approach is misguided and destined to fail.

“The governor created a task force for heroin and it didn’t have a person in recovery on the task force,” said Mike Gimbel, the director of substance abuse for Baltimore County from 1980 to 2003. “They don’t understand heroin. They really think it’s like teen smoking. This isn’t drug prevention 101.”

According to Gimbel, there’s unlikely to be any headway made against the problem without a primary focus on long-term treatment and rehabilitation, not on naloxone, an anti-overdose drug, and vivitrol, which blocks opioid receptors in the brain for up to a month.

“We’re not going to medicate our way out of it. You don’t solve a drug problem with more drugs,” Gimbel said. “The model should be treatment on demand.”

Funding for Hogan’s state of emergency effort is authorized under the recently passed HOPE Act, which calls for a series of initiatives that revolve around reforming drug courts, naloxone distribution and hospital discharge procedures. The bill also calls for the establishment of “crisis treatment centers,” but requires only one to be up and running before June 2018 and mandates no others.

“It’s important that on the back side, there’s treatment,” said Stamp. “We have to beef up our ability to help people fighting addictions.”

A matter of faith

The inclusion of faith-based organizations on local drug councils is indicative of the all-hands approach in rural areas. What religious groups can bring to the opioid fight is significant in terms of manpower and a direct connection to the community.

“We’re a microcosm of what’s going on in the street,” said Pastor David Ziler of the Union Rescue Mission in Cumberland, a homeless shelter with 62 beds that serves about 200 meals a day. “If it’s happening, we’re going to see it before anyone else is seeing it.”

Ziler believes churches and religious organizations can provide what the government can’t.

“We’re throwing money at the problem, but we haven’t thrown people at the problem,” Ziler said. “(Religious organizations) are the biggest volunteer group in the world and we can offer more man hours than anyone.”

by J.F. Meils