Harford County law enforcement and public health officials have been trying to battle opiate abuse, labeled the county's top drug problem, and are trying two new programs focused on administering anti-opioid drugs in overdose situations and at the county jail.
The latest initiative will license any resident to administer naloxone, a drug that can be used in an emergency to turn back the effects of opioids such as heroin and morphine.
Licensees will get a two-year certificate and a prescription for the intranasal naloxone, according to a news release. Naloxone is a generic opiate drug, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which notes it is marketed under several names, among them Narcan.
The county's Addiction Services Division, run by the Health Department, is holding three training sessions this month to train interested residents in how to use naloxone.
Similar training has been done successfully in other jurisdictions, health department spokesman William Wiseman said.
He did not know the cost of the program Tuesday but said it would primarily be the cost of the drug.
Wiseman also said paramedics on Harford County ambulance crews have been instructed in the use of naloxone.
The naloxone classes are free and will be held at Edgewood Hall at Harford Community College, at 401 Thomas Run Road. Registration is required. They will run from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. this Thursday, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. June 10 and from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. June 17.
The training will give information about county treatment resources, instructions on recognizing signs of an opioid overdose, rescue breathing techniques and protocols for proper use, storage and administration of naloxone.
The drug itself is obtained by prescription, Wiseman said.
"The purpose of the Opioid Overdose Plan is to reduce unintentional, life-threatening poisonings related to the ingestion of opioids," addiction division director Beth Jones said in a statement. "In Harford County, stakeholders are striving to create a paradigm shift in the county, reduce overdose deaths and increase the number of people receiving behavioral health services."
According to the National Institutes of Health's website MedlinePlus "Some community overdose prevention programs provide emergency opiate overdose education and a take-home supply of naloxone for people who may abuse opiate medications and their family members, friends, or caregivers to use in case of an opiate overdose."
The website notes the drug can be injected or administered intranasally, with intravenous injection the most common method of administration in emergencies. The website also states: "It is important to call 911 and get immediate emergency medical care for the person following the use of naloxone."
For more information on the naloxone program, visit http://www.harfordcountyhealth.com or call Wendy T. Kanely at 410-877-2355 or Beth Jones at 410-877-2340.
Detention center program
The Harford County Sheriff's Office also recently signed an agreement to administer the drug Vivitrol, a more long-term anti-opioid, to eligible inmates in the county detention center, Sheriff's Office spokesman Edward Hopkins said Tuesday.
Inmates who will be released within a month can sign up to be educated about Vivitrol and injected with the brand name drug about five days prior to their release, Wiseman said.
The drug blocks the effects of opiates and alcohol for up to 30 days, he said. Participants will be referred to the Health Department for follow-up treatment and further injections, he said.
The Vivitrol program, which is overseen by the state's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, is modeled after one in Washington County, Wiseman, said, emphasizing that the detention center program and the community naloxone program are separate entities.
The Sheriff's Office is waiting for the health department to sign off on the plan, and no inmates had signed up as of Tuesday, Hopkins said. The Detention Center had 373 inmates as of Tuesday.
Heroin abuse got renewed attention in Harford after three young adults died of overdoses within two days in December 2011. Several other suspected heroin overdoses, some likely fatal, have been reported in more recent years.
Sheriff Jesse Bane and county Office of Drug Control Policy Manager Joe Ryan recently called heroin abuse one of Harford's worst drug problems. Opiate-related deaths in Harford are the fourth highest in the state, Ryan said in January.
Bane also has complained that an overwhelming number of the men and women jailed at the detention center are dealing with some sort of substance abuse problem.
In November 2011, a Cecil County man, who was arrested in connection with a string of armed robberies at area convenience stores, died in custody from cardiac arrest that the Sheriff's Office said appeared to have been related to heroin withdrawal.