Salisbury summit reviews drug’s local presence

Almost immediately, heroin makes you feel good, happy, even euphoric. But in exchange – a cruel and often deadly exchange – it mangles lives.

It’s an ugly problem, but not one that’s out there somewhere, in another state or country. It’s right here, statewide and with such a high prevalence locally that Wicomico County’s incidence is second only to Baltimore’s.

When Gov. Larry Hogan was elected, he vowed to tackle it, and formed the Heroin & Opioid Emergency Task Force, with Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford at the helm. The task force, which has been meeting around the state, was in Salisbury recently, to talk with members of law enforcement, county officials and healthcare workers, who made requests of the governor’s office and explained programs to combat heroin, easily obtainable and as cheap as $10 or $20 on the street.

It was the fifth of six summits targeting heroin, a highly addictive drug synthesized from morphine. Its high is immediate, as quick as 8 seconds, and lasts 15 minutes or so, according to information at the addiction information and treatment site aboutheroin.com.

About 150 people, including state and local dignitaries, gathered in June on the campus of St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church for the daylong discussion.

Rutherford called heroin use “a disease” that kills more people than automobile crashes and murders.

Wicomico County Executive Bob Culver said his county suffers the same problems as other jurisdictions and that heroin use has no boundaries of wealth or race.

His responsibility is to give his staff and economic development team the tools necessary to fight the epidemic, he said.

“Wicomico County is 100 percent behind  the actions of what the governor and lieutenant governor are doing. Let us know if there’s anything we can do,” Culver said, before introducing Lori Brewster, the county’s health officer.

She explained the county’s methadone clinic, where medication is dispensed to eliminate or reduce drug usage, has about 270 clients locally, and another 50 are served in West Ocean City.

Wicomico was one of the pilot jurisdictions to prevent deaths by overdose, she said, adding health department officials work with hospitals and provide peer support.

She suggested  a statewide campaign,  instead of having pieces of funding going to various jurisdictions, as is the current policy.

Rutherford asked about peer support and Brewster explained the peers are trained coaches who have had an addiction of their own.

Brewster said Wicomico had done much with media campaigns and has drop-off boxes for drugs, placed at law enforcement agencies. The health department, hospital and pharmacies are working on an education campaign with pain management doctors, she said.

There is a need for heroin education in schools, she said, because the risk of heroin use is lessened when individuals are taught the dangers while they are young.

In nearby Worcester County, said Health Officer Dr. Andrea Mathias, more than 78 percent of overdose deaths are opioid related. Rutherford said Medicaid and some private insurance companies cover medications that help addicts, including Vivatrol, used to treat addiction to alcohol and narcotic drugs.

Speakers agreed parents must be involved in the fight against heroin.

Solid parenting advice was shared, such as the crucial need for mothers and fathers to become familiar with prescription drugs kept at home and the importance of not leaving pills laying around. They should be secured and out of sight, just as guns are, officials warned.

Rutherford said the best advice he learned is to hug a teen when he gets home. While hugging him, he said, quietly smell for drugs or alcohol, without being accusatory.

Following the summit, state Delegate Mary Beth Carozza issued a news release vowing to “keep working with all the specific constituencies – prevention, education, treatment and law enforcement – to develop budgetary and legislative solutions as tools to be used in the fight against the heroin epidemic.

“Whether parent or guardian, teacher, doctor or nurse, therapist, law enforcement or elected official, we each have a responsibility to do our part to protect Maryland’s families from this heroin epidemic,” Carozza said.

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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