Harford budget hearing

Harford County leaders listen as residents speak during a budget hearing Wednesday at Havre de Grace High School. (Bryna Zumer | Aegis Staff, Patuxent Publishing / January 19, 2012)

Harford County's office on drug control policy has had trouble making headway in the county's public school system, county administration director Mary Chance told a group of residents concerned about drug education Wednesday.

"[Drug control policy manager] Joe Ryan is more than willing to work with county schools," she said. "We are having a difficult time, I have to be honest with you, of getting our programs into the Harford County Public Schools. We would love to do more programs there."

The hearing on the county's 2013 budget drew about 50 people to Havre de Grace High School, including 17 who signed up to speak. Besides Chance, budget panel members included Harford County Executive David Craig, Treasurer Kathryn Hewitt and Budget and Management Chief Kim Spence.

One of the main topics at the hearing was drug education in the county schools, which several parents and relatives said they were promoting in light of a spate of recent heroin deaths.

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"Fallston [High School] is referred to as Heroin High because that's where you can get heroin easy," Sabrina Breeden, of Bel Air, said, asking that the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) Program be put back in the school system.

"I just found out that the program was taken out of the schools and it just blows my mind," she said. "These kids need to be educated… To not let them know that is just ridiculous."

Breeden said her son has been struggling with drugs.

"If you would have told me five years ago that he would be a heroin addict, I would tell you are crazy," she said.

One of Breeden's sons, 12-year-old Bradley, read a poem about the dangers of drug addiction, and told the panel he did not learn about those dangers from school.

"I learned from life, and I learned the hard way by watching my brother go through them," he said. "Kids just are not being educated. If kids don't get educated about drugs, then there's going to be a lot more kids dying in Harford County."

Both Chance and Craig made the rare move of replying during a public hearing. They told the parents and relatives they should speak with the school system and the office on drug control policy.

"Unfortunately, the school department doesn't work collaboratively with them," Craig said, adding that as a former school administrator, he worked with the DARE program.

"I thoroughly understand how important that program was and needs to be," he said.

Noting that many children start abusing drugs by taking prescription drugs at home, he said Harford has a well-acclaimed drug takeback program.

Chance also encouraged residents to speak at the school system's public hearings and work with their churches or other organizations.

"We understand how truly critical of a need this is. We don't want any more children to die, either," she said. "We understand how terrible the heroin problem is here in Harford County."

The drug control policy office ran into problems with the school system at least once before. In early 2010, the office's Youth Commission was not allowed to distribute a survey on Harford's youth to public school students during school hours.

Besides Breeden, other parents and friends at the hearing also testified on behalf of loved ones who have struggled with drugs.

Debra Daugherty, of Aberdeen, said people in Harford should unite to help those in need.

"It's about time we change our laws enough to scare our children enough to stay alive," she said. "We cannot stand by. We must address this problem before it consumes our community."