'Our efforts have made an impact,' Harford sheriff says of opioids epidemic fight [Commentary]

daanderson@baltsun.com

At the request of The Aegis, Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey R. Gahler provided his thoughts on the county’s opioid epidemic and the community’s efforts to overcome it. Editor.

I want to take an opportunity to applaud the efforts of so many of our friends and families who understand that the only way to attack the opioid epidemic is with resolve.

The fight against opioid abuse and addiction requires a long term commitment from our community and partners. I commend everyone for the continued attention and persistence they have directed to fighting opioid addiction. Fighting for our citizens is a team effort and members of our community have shown great determination and grit during this engagement.

Many smart, good intentioned and well-meaning people, some representing themselves, some their loved ones affected by opioid addiction and others their government and private sector employers have been working tirelessly to save lives and identify solutions to the many issues present when dealing with addiction.

I want to be very clear; lives have been changed for the good and lives have been saved because of a team effort from dedicated and motivated individuals. This cannot be understated and cannot go unnoticed.

Our efforts have made an impact. Our unconventional response to overdoses has led to many positive developments to include the arrest and prosecution of high level opioid dealers linked to the supply of opioids to Harford County residents and opportunity for those suffering from this addiction to enter treatment and fight the hold of opioids. Our community engagement and awareness programs have been modeled throughout Maryland. Our unusual approach to education led the H.O.P.E. Workgroup to develop a trailer used throughout the community to teach parents, friends and relatives what and where to look for signs of drug abuse. I

n a few short weeks, the H.O.P.E. House, as the trailer has been named, has had over 1,000 visitors who have been coached by community volunteers to look for certain indicators of substance abuse and to provide additional resources for additional education and treatment.

Realizing that this epidemic is pervasive, devastating communities without respect to demographics we acknowledge that it is among, if not the, most pressing challenge for the Sheriff’s Office. Everyone is familiar with the heroin and opioid epidemic that has taken hold of our community and is driving the majority of the property crimes committed in Harford County. Due to great work on the part of law enforcement in Harford County a great many crimes are solved and the perpetrator incarcerated.

A great many of those incarcerated were driven to crime by their addictions. In response, the Harford County Detention Center developed and activated a Substance and Behavioral Abuse Unit to address recovery from addiction and to prepare those in our custody for entry into the community. This program has shown a great deal of potential and has received a positive response from graduates.

I continuously evaluate the information developed through our efforts to identify additional opportunities to make a difference. One such opportunity is to use the Maryland legislature to fill voids that allow opioids to negatively impact our community.

In 2018, as in past years, I will again seek to introduce legislation designed to make a difference. I have proposed, along with our legislators, to target those who provide opioids to minors resulting in death with a 30-year prison term, to mandate those who have received the lifesaving Narcan from a first responder in response to a near death overdose to receive medical treatment, to have hospitals throughout Maryland report basic information to law enforcement to enhance situational awareness. In Harford County, both Upper Chesapeake and Harford Memorial Hospitals provide us with general statistical information (no names or addresses) to allow for a timely and accurate assessment of the state of overdoses in Harford County. Reporting from the Hospital system has allowed us to develop an accurate overdose assessment from which we develop and tailor our efforts.

Nowhere has it been written that more can’t be done. I agree, and continue to evaluate the problem for opportunities. Opportunities to prevent, disrupt or reduce opioid addiction are sought at every turn.

In the New Year, the Harford County Sheriff’s Office will remain committed to build on the coordinated approach to reduce overdose deaths and capitalize on every opportunity to incorporate prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery to stem the tide of opioids impacting our community.

Jeffrey R. Gahler

Harford County Sheriff

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