Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman Wednesday night held his final public safety town hall of the year, highlighting the work the county is doing to battle the opioid crisis.
He was joined by Police Chief Gary Gardner, Fire Chief John Butler, Sheriff Bill McMahon, Department of Corrections Director Jack Kavanagh, Office of Emergency Management Director Ryan Miller, Deputy State’s Attorney Kim Oldham and Health Officer Maura Rossman at the James N. Robey Training Center.
Kittleman began the meeting by opening up the forum to questions from residents.
When no one came forward with a question, Kittleman posed one of his own: “What is the county doing to help solve the opioid problem in the county?”
Officials, beginning with Rossman, then launched into explanations of the number of ways the county is attempting to help people recover from substance abuse, prevent people from getting addicted and prosecuting those distributing drugs in the county.
As of Nov. 9, 45 people in the county had died this year from an overdose, and 146 had suffered non-fatal overdoses, according to police data.
Rossman talked about the county’s use of data to “understand what this issue is in Howard County, where the needs are . . . to get the resources in the right places at the right time.”
Gardner noted the widespread reach of the epidemic, and its impact on residents regardless of race, age or wealth. He also mentioned that all police officers in the county have now been trained to use the opioid antidote naloxone.
Despite the effectiveness of naloxone, with its ability to revive substance abusers after an overdose, Gardner emphasized the “double edged sword” of the increased use of the antidote, as some users are now relying on the medicine to save them from a greater and more dangerous high.
“We’re not going to Narcan our way out of this . . . we’ve got to do a deeper dive,” Butler said, adding onto Gardner’s note that the county is not going to “arrest our way out of this.”
Kavanagh highlighted the number of ways the county’s detention center is aiming to help substance abusers while they are incarcerated. The detention center has a six-month recovery program, but Kavanagh said the new aim is to help those whose sentences are shorter, to make sure they receive help while they are in jail as well as once they are released.
Both Kavanagh and Gardner shared how opioids had impacted their own lives. Kavanagh said he helped a family friend go through withdrawal from opioids in his own home, because there was no residential recovery bed available in the county.
Kavanagh’s story brought up the ongoing issue in the county of a lack of a residential center for substance abuse recovery. Rossman and Kittleman emphasized the work the county is doing to find a location for a future center, as well as the increased network of treatment options available to residents in the meantime.
The Rev. Charles Davis, of Full Gospel Baptist Church in Cooksville, offered his church’s services for those in recovery who may need spiritual guidance.
“As one of the clergy that’s in the Howard County area, I want to also let the community know that the clergy and the church is available as well, that we partner in with each of you for someone that may need to have some spiritual advising,” Davis said. “The church is here.”
Outside of opioids, residents also asked about the county’s resources and strategies for dealing with disasters, such as last year’s Ellicott City flood.
Miller mentioned his department’s community hazard handbook, with strategies for dealing with the county’s most common disasters. In the year since the flood, he said the department has analyzed its response to the emergency, including highlighting 700 specific improvements for the future.
Kittleman ended the night by highlighting human trafficking, a problem that officials have been working to eradicate from the county for some time. Gardner said the police department now has two full-time human trafficking detectives.
Oldman said while many residents have been surprised to learn human trafficking is a problem in the county, traffickers are drawn to the area because of its security and its proximity to major highways including Interstate 95 and Route 1.
She said the county courts work to harshly punish traffickers who are arrested, but that cases are tough to prosecute because victims rarely testify, and their needs come first.
“The victim comes first, and what can we do to keep that person safe,” Oldham said. “We have had significant success in the courtroom obtaining strong, serious sentences. The courts do not take kindly to human traffickers in Howard County.”