A new billboard on Route 1, just south of the Bel Air town limits, warns about the dangers of young athletes becoming addicted to painkillers, which can lead to heroin or other opioid abuse.
The billboard is the third in the county's campaign, which was started by Harford County Barry Glassman when he took office to bring awareness to the heroin epidemic that is affecting not only Harford County, but also the state and the nation, county government spokesperson Cindy Mumby said.
"We want to raise awareness about this national epidemic and its impact everywhere in Harford County, and shattering those notions that drugs are only found in certain schools and certain neighborhoods," Mumby said. "Heroin is everywhere. It knows no ZIP code. It does not discriminate based on socio-economic status anywhere in Harford County or anywhere in the nation."
Whereas the first two billboards were aimed at raising awareness of the heroin abuse scourge and its potential to involve children as young as middle school age, this one is aimed at a very specific demographic – student athletes.
"The idea behind the message on the billboard is that treating injuries with prescription painkillers can lead to heroin addiction," Mumby said.
Athletes get hurt, and often are prescribed painkillers to manage pain, she said. But just because an athlete is prescribed a bottle of painkillers doesn't mean he or she has to use them all, Mumby said. There are other alternatives after the immediate pain.
"It's all well-intentioned. Every parent wants to do what they can to alleviate pain. It's natural human tendency," Mumby said. "Continuing to give those painkillers, after alleviating temporary pain, that could down the road, with a heroin addiction, could cause devastating pain to your child and family."
"That's the connection we want to bring to parents' attention," she said.
The $15,000 billboard, which will be displayed for four weeks at a time at three sites in Harford, is being paid for through county funds directed to battling the epidemic, Mumby said.
The sign on Route 1 near the Bel Air Auto Auction went up April 17. After four weeks, on May 15, it will go up on Route 40 in Joppa. The billboard will come down for the summer and go back up in September on Belair Road at the Bel Air Bypass, she said.
More than half a million people are expected to see the billboard over its 12-week cycle – 87,400 near the auto auction, 109,400 on Route 40 and 86,300 near the bypass, Mumby said.
"We're trying to capture traffic. Moving the location underscores our message that this epidemic knows no ZIP code. It's not in one section of Harford County. It's everywhere, so we are putting the message in several locations throughout the county," she said. "We have 250,000 people in Harford County. We want to reach each and every one of them with the message."
The county isn't just using billboards to spread the word about the dangers of heroin and opioid addiction.
It recently held a contest in which youth were asked to put together public service announcements regarding the dangers of heroin, creating an opportunity for kids to learn about the dangers of opioid addiction and drug addiction, Mumby said.
"It's very powerful when kids are talking to kids," Mumby said. "And to send that message to their peers."
The winning PSA will be shown at local movie theaters.
"We want to reach every citizen in Harford County and we'll continue with a variety of methods to do that," Mumby said. "The county executive mentioned it in his inaugural address, at a time when people were not talking about this out in the open as much."
Gov. Larry Hogan has made fighting the heroin epidemic a priority and more attention is being paid to the problem at a national level, Mumby said.
"And we are continuing with our program. The wheels were set in motion with the Glassman administration and we're going to carry this forward because it is devastating. It cannot be ignored and we won't ignore it," she said.