Since the start of this year, at least 18 suspected drug overdoses that required police and emergency medical responses have been called in to the Harford County Sheriff's Office.
Those calls came on the heels of one horrific two-day period in December when three people died in the county as a result of suspected heroin overdoses. Police also believe a death in February was related to some sort of drug overdose.
Though all four of the deaths were people their late teens or early 20s, the suspected overdose calls handled so far this year by the Harford County Sheriff's Office ranged from accidental to intentional, occurred in a variety of age groups and involved a variety of substances, legitimate and illegal, according to spokeswoman Monica Worrell.
What is called in as an overdose isn't always related to drugs such as heroin, Worrell said. It can also include when children accidentally take medicine or when an adult takes too much of his or her prescribed medications.
The number of overdose calls surveyed by The Aegis was limited to the sheriff's office, Worrell said Thursday, and did not include calls investigated by other law enforcement agencies in county, including Maryland State Police and municipal police departments in Aberdeen, Bel Air and Havre de Grace.
In calls for service to the sheriff's office studied since January, the callers' descriptions ranged from "daughter out of it" to someone is "passed out" and also included a few instances of excessive alcohol consumption.
There have been several instances of suspected drug abuse related overdoses in the past six months, including in late December when three young adults died of suspected heroin overdoses: Alyssa Whelan, 19, of the 200 block of Drexel Drive in Bel Air, and John Deckelman, 20, of the 100 block of Fallston Meadow Court in Fallston, were found dead together on Dec. 27, according to police reports. In the early morning hours of Dec. 28, Jaime Lidlow, 19, of the 1100 block of Royston Place in Bel Air, was also found dead in the 1300 block of Roman Ridge Drive.
Another young man died on Feb. 18 from a suspected drug overdose. Patrick "Jake" Anthony Miorada, of the 1400 block of St. Francis Road in Bel Air, was found dead in his bedroom, where police also found suspected marijuana, suspected Oxycodone pills and a medication for opiate withdrawal.
The sheriff's office is still waiting to hear back from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner to determine if Mr. Miorada's death was caused by the drugs.
At the start of the year, on Jan. 4, a 21-year-old Jarrettsville woman was taken to a hospital for a suspected overdose. The woman, from the 4000 block of Federal Hill Road, was found with a hypodermic needle, according to police.
In a more recent report, a 28-year-old man was taken to Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air from the 1300 block of Roman Ridge Way in Bel Air following a suspected drug overdose. Deputies responded to the Hickory Overlook neighborhood on March 26 at 11:42 p.m., where they found the man unconscious and unresponsive in a basement, according to a police report.
The man had come to the house after work at approximately 11:30 p.m. and told the homeowner that he had injected himself with heroin, according to the police report. Ten minutes later, the man became unresponsive and the homeowner called 9-1-1.
Hickory Overlook is the same neighborhood where Mr. Lidlow was found dead in December.
Drug paraphernalia was not found in the residence nor in the man's car and the homeowner said he was unsure where the man initially injected himself, according to the police report.
The man regained consciousness after the EMS personnel began working on him and before he was taken to the hospital.
In many cases, not all incidents that are called in as such are actual drug overdoses, according to Harford County Volunteer Fire and EMS Association spokesperson Dave Williams, who echoed the comments of Worrell from the sheriff's office.
Representatives of the Harford County Office of Drug Control Policy were not available to comment on these incidents Thursday afternoon.
In the past, however, Joe Ryan, the office's director, has said he considers the abuse of prescription medications to be a major problem in Harford County, one possibly more serious than the abuse of popular street drugs such as heroin, cocaine, crack cocaine and methamphetamine.
Finding help, prevention
The Harford County Health Department has several different levels of programs available to residents who are suffering with drug abuse or dependency problems or who just want to learn more about the problem.
The department's Bel Air office, at 120 Hays St., offers standard outpatient programs - some with income limits - for people with substance dependency problems, as well as educational programs, according to Addiction Services Director Beth Jones.
The educational aspect is pre-abuse, for people who want to learn more.
Standard outpatient programs are up to eight hours of treatment per week, while intensive outpatient programs are nine or more hours of treatment per week, Jones said Thursday.
Standard outpatient programs include the Drug Court and the HOPE programs, Jones said.
Drug Court is a diversion program that keeps adults who have minimal, non-violent charges out of jail as long as they get treatment.
The HOPE program, which stands for Healthy Options Provide Empowerment, is grant-funded and helps people who have been released from the Harford County Detention Center to get "fast-tracked" in the anti-recidivism services the county offers, Jones said.
Last fall, Harford Sheriff Jesse Bane said a majority of the people who are sentenced to serve time at the county detention center come into the jail already dealing with drug abuse and/or addiction issues.
The health department also refers people to residential treatment programs, for either three- to seven-day detox services or 28-day stays, Jones said. The health department also contracts out to a methadone management program and has a psychiatrist on staff to do full evaluations.
Adult-only programs require state-funded insurance; in other words, they are essentially limited to low income people.
Adolescent programs can take private insurance, Jones said, adding that these services typically are considered out-of-network by private insurers.