Message from County Executive Dr. Alan McCarthy
Early this month I and four others from Cecil County Government departments met with Lt. Governor Boyd Rutherford and Mr. Clay Stamp, Executive Director, Opioid Operational Command Center. I requested the meeting and was very pleased to receive the opportunity. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the devastating personal, social and economic impact of the addiction and abuse of heroin and other opioids in Cecil County. Three of the individuals who accompanied me to Annapolis included Sheriff Scott Adams, Chief of Emergency Services Richard Brooks and Director of Administration Al Wein.
At the outset I was pleased that Lt. Governor Rutherford was fully engaged in the discussion along with taking personal notes throughout our hour long meeting. He knows the topic and the havoc it is having across the state of Maryland and throughout the United States.
Historically, Cecil County was the first Maryland County to acknowledge the opioid epidemic by hosting a Roundtable with then Governor Martin O’Malley in 2013. We also hosted the first Maryland Heroin and Opioid Task Force Regional Summit in 2015. This body is chaired by Lt. Governor Rutherford. The purpose of this State of Maryland initiative is to seek input from agency representatives fighting this devastating crisis in each Region. While many of the varied and unique strategies being used throughout the State have been in place for many years, we are still losing the war on opioid and heroin abuse.
The epidemic has grown at an exponential rate, sweeping through Cecil County and Maryland, without regard to race, color, creed, or economic status. The social and financial impact of this blight is beyond our ability to calculate. More than eighty percent (80%) of the inmates in our detention center are there for drug addiction or crimes related to acquiring money to buy drugs. Both Sheriff Adams and Chief Brooks shared the real-life exposure to danger that the men and women in their departments face on each drug overdose call. Since our meeting with the Lt. Governor held on July 10, 2017, in Cecil County there have been twenty-three (23) incidents of opiate overdose, five (5) of which resulted in death. In eighteen (18) of these cases Narcan was administered. To make matters worse, suppliers are lacing heroin and opiates with Fentanyl or Carfentanil which exposes our first responders, and others www.ccgov.org who attempt to revive, to even greater personal danger and possible death. This social and financial burden is crippling and destroying our society. It must stop!
I know that any single effort to stop this carnage will not have a long lasting impact. There is no silver bullet. For instance, I know we cannot arrest ourselves out of this blight. Every arrested drug dealer is replaced immediately by two. And on the other hand if we just keep focused on treatment of those who abuse drugs, we will spend significant financial and human resources and frankly do little to stem the tide of those entering the dark world of opioid / heroin use and abuse. Truth be known the success rate of saving those who are addicted to opioids or heroin is low.
The supply will not dry up until the demand for heroin is eliminated or at the very least greatly diminished. We believe that the greatest single strategy for the long term is more drug education that in turn will stem the flow of new heroin and other opioid users into the pipeline. Providing more learning opportunities for our children and citizens of all ages is key. During the recent General Assembly Session 2017, laws were passed that mandated heroin and other opioids awareness and education for students attending public K-12 school systems and state funded higher education institutions. In our discussions with Lt. Governor Rutherford, we question, that while the effort is positive, whether there is enough specific direction on what must be taught or will it be twenty-four public school systems doing their own thing? How will it be determined if students are learning the material and that this instruction is having the desired outcome? All students are tested on math and reading every year starting early in elementary school. How do we certify that this required drug education is working? We can’t wait ten years to determine the results.
Of course treatment of the addicted must continue, but we must acknowledge that the number of addicts that truly recover are small at best and are currently consuming medical resources faster than we can produce and replace. In Cecil County the diversion of our limited EMS resources to address opioid and heroin abuse is stretching us to the limit. Some believe that abusers are relying on Naloxone or Narcan, the life-saving antidote to opioids used to reverse the effect of a heroin overdose, as a failsafe to bring them back from the brink of death if they make a mistake or seek to test their limits. This is an inappropriate use of the medication and emergency personnel resources administered and assigned to assist them.
Of shocking note, four out of five of the heroin addicts report that they start their addiction as a result of taking prescribed painkillers by members of the medical profession. Vast sums of money are made by the doctors, pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies that promote, market and sell these addicting painkillers. Advertisements promote the pain-free environment that every citizen must have. Have a pain, take a drug! What motive, other than the good of mankind, is there for these professionals and organizations to change their behaviors?
In Cecil County we are more than concerned. We are scared that we are losing this war on drugs and without swift and comprehensive action, we are doomed. Representing all in Cecil County I offer the following:
1. Mandate continuing education for medical professionals, physicians, dentists, and others able to prescribe opioid prescriptions. Hold them to high standards of conduct; no more “pill doctors.” Hold pharmaceutical companies liable for unethical practices.
2. Begin age appropriate anti opioid and heroin abuse education in early grades in public and private schools and continue through 12th grade. Focus on learning outcomes and student performance, not just the number of minutes devoted to each student at each grade level.
3. Continue to emphasize, as current state law does, that institutions of higher education provide ongoing education and guidance to properly influence students to choose NOT to become involved with drugs, including heroin and other opioids. Publicize guidance and crisis intervention programs to intervene at the earliest possible signs that the wrong decisions are about to or are being made.
4. Publicize anti-drug campaigns on television, radio, billboards and in our public/private schools, public library, government buildings, our churches, etc. Advertise the negative and ugly effects of opioid and opioid addiction.
5. Evaluate current treatment programs in regard to their effectiveness, cost, and rate of addict recovery short-term and long-term. If the prescribed treatment is not working, eliminate it. We must rely on best practice remedies that work.
6. Provide education and job training programs for those in recovery to reestablish purpose and direction in their lives. Being involved in viable careers and being employed is crucial to sustaining the recovery path.
7. Have the difficult discussion regarding the continued use of resources for those who refuse assistance or simply use lifesaving medicines and human actions to return to their abusive way of life, destroying themselves and their families at the expense of others needing emergency care. I know that many will scream at this suggestion as being inhuman but we must acknowledge the situation and have the discussion.
While we remain concerned at the devastating impact of drug abuse, we are optimistic that if all parties come together in a synergistic manner that we can win this war. Lt. Governor Rutherford promised his continued personal and professional leadership and resources as we www.ccgov.org continue the fight. We are confident that he and Governor Hogan are personally committed to make a difference. However, they need our help. We in Cecil County will continue our efforts but in this case “it takes a village” to win this war. Every citizen, organization, agency in all sectors both public and private must come together to rid every jurisdiction in Maryland of this plight endangering the welfare and future of every Maryland citizen.
Cecil County County Executive
Dr. Alan McCarthy