Harford residents line up in front of courthouse to 'Stop The Dope'

The area around the Harford County Courthouse in Bel Air was swarming Saturday morning with people who had gathered in solidarity to raise awareness about Harford's growing drug abuse and addiction problems.

The county government, in conjunction with the Addiction Connections Resource, a non-profit providing resources to people and families impacted by drug addiction, held Harford's first Human Rope to Stop the Dope event to raise awareness, celebrate recovery and to combat substance abuse and addictions.

More than 150 people gathered along Main Street for the event, holding up signs and banners hoping to inform passers-by about the realities associated with drug addiction. Some participants paid homage to loved ones who lost their lives to drug addictions and overdoses.

The event was organized by a push from Harford County resident Yvonne Harris, whose 19-year-old daughter, Alyssa Whelan, died from a heroin overdose in December 2011. According to her Facebook page, Alyssa Whelan was a 2010 North Harford High School graduate.

"We're seeing our youth abuse the more powerful, the more deadly drugs," Joseph Ryan, manager of the Harford County Office of Drug Control Policy, said Monday. "We need parents to be proactive and notice things like a change in friends, change in behavior or a change school habits—like grades. Parents need to search their children's belongings to see if there's any tell-tale signs of drug residue in there."

Ryan said about 15,000 individuals, roughly 6 percent of the population in Harford County, are suffering from drug-related addictions. He said his department has seen an increase opioid related deaths, with popular drugs being heroin and prescription medicines, such as Oxycontin and Percocet.

September is National Alcohol and Drug Awareness month, and Ryan said his agency gladly partnered with community organizations and leaders for Saturday's event.

"Any time we can get community members involved to bring awareness to this issue, we want to partner with them to spread that message," Ryan said.

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