In a really bad year, between 30 and 35 people are killed on Harford County highways. In a typical year, if we can call it such, 20 to 25 die.
Contrast that with the toll the heroin/opioid abuse epidemic has taken in the county in the past two years, 56 deaths last year and more than 60 and counting this year. It’s mind-boggling to say the least.
Trite as it may be, we have said on several occasions in this space that numbers don’t lie, and they don’t, but they also don’t necessarily explain the pain and suffering, both for the people who have become addicted and their families and friends who are forced to in many cases to watch a death spiral in real time.
Last week, the county government and its allied agencies in the heroin fight presented a community forum, “Facing Addiction in Harford County,” which featured a former U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy.
Murthy said Harford County isn’t alone. The epidemic has become a national one, leaving local governments, public health authorities and families grasping at anything that can be done to save people. Unfortunately, as was noted last week, there aren’t enough treatment alternatives available, leaving education as the best means to dissuade younger people from trying something they’ll die regretting.
“This is profound moment for self definition for our country,” Murthy said.
To the credit of many people locally, including County Executive Barry Glassman and his staff, Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler and members of his agency, Office of Drug Control Policy Director Joe Ryan, School Superintendent Barbara Canavan and her staff, former Health Officer Susan Kelly and her staff and many parents and friends of people who have died from opioid overdoses, that moment for self definition has come earlier in Harford County compared to many other locations across the United States.
That doesn’t make it any less painful, of course, but as Murthy also pointed out, education and awareness are going to be the keys to ending the epidemic. Pre-K, he said, is not too early to teach kids drugs aren’t the way to deal with stressful situations, he said. We agree, and we’ve seen a massive effort in our schools and our community to get that message across, be it in the classroom, on outdoor billboards or the public service annoucements in our movie theaters.
We’d like to hope it’s not too late for some of our older residents of Harford County to get the message, but being frank, we also have to say for many it’s probably too late. As Gahler pointed out during last week’s forum, there were three overdose calls in the county that same day, two which ended up with fatalities. One of the deaths was at a location deputies had responded to five separate times.
Clearly, then, hope lies in never starting on that death spiral. Education, awareness and family and peer support appear the only ways to prevent it.