Tonight’s community forum at Civic Center focuses on opioids, heroin abuse

As the battle continues against heroin and opioids, Health Department officials are asking the public to join in a discussion and offer suggestions at a forum tonight.

Ideas will be exchanged following brief remarks from county leaders at Taking Back Our Community: A Community Conversation on Heroin and Opioids, from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Midway Room of the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center.

“We’re going to open it up to the audience with questions, suggestions, any ideas for what we can do differently to address this problem. This is more of a community input session than for us to speak,” Lori Brewster, County Health Officer, said.

The forum is another weapon in the arsenal against heroin and opioids, as Health Department, county and city leaders, fighting together, watch the number of deaths and overdoses drop.

“Individuals going into the emergency department has declined by 24 percent over last year,” Brewster said.

“According to the state, in the first quarter of 2017, in January, February and March, we had a decline in overdose deaths. We had eight fewer during that time this year than we had last year,” she said.

In 2016, there were 48 and seven so far this year.

In February this year, Brewster told the Salisbury Independent that from January to September 2016, there were 40 drug, and also related intoxication, deaths in Wicomico County.

For the same time period, there were 21 heroin-related deaths.

Also from January to September 2016, there were 918 heroin-related deaths statewide, two in Somerset County and 10 in Worcester County.

There were 30 deaths from fentanyl but Brewster stressed some statistics may overlap because there could have been more than one drug in a person’s system when he overdosed.

Use of fentanyl, commonly prescribed for cancer pain, has increased nearly 300 percent, largely because it is inexpensive and being brought in from other countries. Fentanyl is commonly mixed with heroin by dealers and can be more deadly than heroin. Users who think they are getting straight heroin often receive the fatal mix.

Opioids are projected to be the fourth leading cause of death in Maryland, after cancer, strokes and heart attacks, Brewster said.

In Wicomico County, the war against the drugs began in earnest last year when COAT, an acronym for the Community Outreach Addictions Team, was announced.

A partnership among the Health Department, Wicomico County State’s Attorney’s Office, Wicomico County government, Salisbury City government, Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office and community leaders, COAT was characterized as the first anti-drug program of its kind in Maryland.

The State’s Attorney at the time, Matt Maciarello, said it would join law enforcement agencies, government officials and Peninsula Regional Medical Center experts.

In 2015, the year before COAT was launched, there were 20 deaths from overdoses and Brewster predicted more in 2016.

The annual budget for COAT is $200,000, from county and city funding.

“COAT is a model. Two weeks ago we did a presentation on COAT to the Maryland Rural Health Association,” she said this week.

Furthering the fight, hundreds of people are trained to use Narcan, a substance that can reverse a drug overdose. Free monthly training is at the Wicomico County branch of the library.

“We are very cautious about the numbers but I think what we can attribute (the decline this year) to the collaboration and cooperation of all of the various organizations working on this project,” Brewster said.

Also at tonight’s discussion, Brewster will present an overview of the anti-drug statistics and programs in Wicomico County. A panel composed of County Executive Bob Culver, Acting State’s Attorney Ella Disharoon and Sheriff Mike Lewis will each speak for five or 10 minutes about what each is doing.

“We are asking the community to attend. Come to the forum and have your ears opened and spread the word. It is truly is going to be a dialogue,” she said.

“This forum is one of many. We are going to have them periodically throughout the county so we can reach people who may not necessarily attend a large venue,” Brewster said.

“We want to hear from the community, what they think. I hope we have a variety of people in the audience. I hope we have teachers, parents of young children and community members in general and maybe some people who are in recovery,” Brewster said.

“We are hoping to fill up the Midway Room.”

 

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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