St. Joseph Medical Center to offer access to live-streamed 'conversation' on opioid crisis

Everything seemed to be falling into place last summer for Nicki Neirman, of Cockeysville.

The 31-year-old nursing staff coordinator had recently had a son, Hunter, and closed on her first home in the suburbs with her fiancé when she got a telephone call that would change her life.

After more than a decade of battling an addiction to heroin and multiple efforts at recovery, her fiance did not show up to work one day, and Neirman and the man's family feared the worst, Neirman said.

“Even when he was in active addiction he never disappeared like that,” Neirman said of her fiance, Trey. “I think we just knew.”

On Aug. 4, 2016, the 31-year-old Cockeysville resident was found unresponsive in his mother’s Lutherville home, becoming one of more than 1,200 Marylanders to die of a heroin-related death in 2016.

“It was a lot of dreaming and future plans, but heroin just steals that from you,” said Trey’s mother, Jan Chadbourne.

The number of opioid-related overdose deaths in Maryland has risen steadily since 2010, which is in line with national trends, leading many in the medical community to call the increasing death rates a public health crisis.

As part of the effort to battle that crisis, Neirman and Chadbourne will attend a free, community conversation on addiction and substance abuse that will be hosted at the University of Maryland, Baltimore campus, and live-streamed at University of Maryland Medical System hospitals, including University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center, in Towson, where Nierman and Chadbourne work in the nursing department.

The event, titled, “Not all Wounds are Visible: A Community Conversation,” will be streamed at St. Joseph on Wednesday, Nov. 29 from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The public is invited to attend one of the streamings.

The conversation is designed to engage the community in a broader discussion of addiction, according to organizers.

Participants will hear from health care professionals and community leaders who will outline statistics about opioid use and overdose deaths, the warning signs of addiction, prevention tips and other information, said Dr. Eric Weintraub, of Towson. Weintraub will co-lead the conversation with Dr. Christopher Welsh, of Cockeysville. Both doctors are University of Maryland Medical Center psychiatrists who specialize in addiction.

A question-and-answer period will follow the presentation, with a call-in option for those watching the live-stream from satellite locations.

“We’re in the midst of a public health emergency,” Weintraub said. “People are dying at very high rates of overdose. I think it’s important for people to be aware of the dangers of what’s going on.”

Within the Baltimore metro area — which includes Baltimore City and Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Carroll, Howard and Harford counties — Baltimore County had the second-highest number of heroin overdose deaths in 2016 — 208 — behind Baltimore City’s 454, according to Maryland Department of Health statistics.

Statewide, heroin-related deaths have quadrupled since 2010, while deaths related to fentanyl began rising three years later, from 58 in 2013 to 1,119 in 2016. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 times stronger than heroin. It can be purchased as a legal painkiller and is sometimes mixed with heroin.

Weintraub said he and other University of Maryland Medical System officials hope to bring the number of overdose deaths down through education, prevention and a change in the way addiction is viewed.

“We’re conceptualizing it more as a medical problem and a chronic illness that needs to be dealt with medically,” Weintraub said, adding that the Towson area and other parts of suburban Baltimore County are experiencing significant overdose rates. “We have effective treatments if people can get their loved ones to the right treatments.”

Live-streams of the event will also be available at the Todd Performing Arts Center at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills, and at the Maryland Center at Bowie State University, in Bowie.

Registration includes free admission, parking, breakfast and access to the discussion. For more information, or to register for the free community discussion, visit www.umms.org/communityhealth.

Neirman and Chadbourne said they hope as many people as possible will participate and learn the warning signs of addiction and methods of prevention.

“Maybe if things like this were done years ago we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Neirman said. “People think ‘It couldn’t happen in my house,’ but it could.”

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