Heroin: Attorney tracking the carnage of abuse

For nearly three years, Rick Brueckner has been building a database to capture what he calls “the big picture of the problem of heroin use.”

“We now have a mechanism. We know this — we are getting far better at saving lives,” Brueckner told the Salisbury Independent.

“We’re getting close. The information we gather includes the addict’s age and what neighborhood he lives in, important facts required not only to help us, but so the county can get state and federal grant money,” he said.

“Having everybody on the same team, everybody reporting and an infrastructure in place is a huge, huge win,” Brueckner said.

In 2016, there were 216 overdoses and 17 deaths in Wicomico County. In 2015, 71 heroin overdoses were reported.

The Community Outreach Addictions Team program, or COAT, formed in June last year, “is unbelievably successful in helping, too,” he said.

“That is our best holistic approach to treating addiction, which means the partnership — between law enforcement, the health department, rehabs, detoxes, the hospital, doctors — makes us a model for the state,” he said.

COAT team members are recovering addicts who respond to reports of overdoses with police and work with addicts to help them get help.

Other counties are using programs similar to COAT, but Wicomico County is leading the way. “We’re one of the forerunners. We’re a model in a lot of ways,” he said.

Another method for preventing overdoses is through training community members in the use of Narcan, the antidote for an overdose.

Free training is offered the second Tuesday each month at the Wicomico County Library. Participants learn to use Narcan, the brand name for the prescription drug naloxone, and carry it with them to save lives. The drug reverses an overdose, but doesn’t provide a high.

“We’ve been on the use of Narcan and doing a really great job of educating in almost every school and nurse’s office. All the paramedics are trained. Narcan can be administered in different ways. It can be a shot. It can be a nasal spray,” Brueckner explained.

“It’s bringing them back from dead,” he said.

When it comes to heroin overdoses, it isn’t wise to cling too tightly to statistics, Brueckner warned.

“We all know there are plenty of overdoses that are happening in people’s houses that we will never know about. If there is an overdose and the police respond, the police go there, or an ambulance goes there and takes that person to the hospital, I get that statistic. I know about that overdose. I can capture that statistic.

“But there is another number no one will ever know, in any county, in any country. If a child overdoses at home, they throw him in the bathtub with ice and don’t report it, how will I ever know?” said Brueckner, adding his position is enjoyable.

“I love it. I love it because I get to see the successes. I get to see the big drug dealers off the street and locked up and keeping drugs away from kids,” he said.

“I am never bored. I’m always learning something.”

He serves under State’s Attorney Ella Disharoon, who he credited for her open-mindedness and “intelligence to address problems.”

This story is part of The Heroin Battle, a special report published in the Feb. 9, 2017 issue of Salisbury Independent.

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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