Baltimore County officials last week announced the countywide placement of overdose awareness signs that will display the number of reported overdoses and number of lives lost to overdose.
At the time of the unveiling of the sign the afternoon of Aug. 28 at the public safety building in Towson, Baltimore County had experienced 780 drug overdoses, including 185 deaths, in 2019. The other signs will be located outside the police precincts in Dundalk, Pikesville, White Marsh and Woodlawn.
County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said during a press conference that the opioid crisis affects everyone and reaches everywhere.
“There’s not a community in our county that hasn’t been touched by the disease of opioid addiction, and we have to do everything within our power to raise awareness, increase access to services and save lives," he said.
The signs were created in part by the Daniel Carl Torsch Foundation, a local advocacy and awareness group that provides overdose response training and aid for in-patient treatment.
“This crisis, this disease, knows no boundaries of age, race, gender or ZIP code,” said Toni Torsch, executive director of the foundation, named for her son, the late Daniel Carl Torsch. “I hope one day we have to tear the signs down."
The signs were not purchased with taxpayer money, but were funded by the Torsch Foundation and other private donors. Each sign will have different sponsors listed along the bottom.
According to County Councilman David Marks, who represents the Towson area, the signs have been quite some time in coming. Marks said he tried to get signs like the ones going up around the county erected during the administration of late-County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, but hit a bunch of “bureaucratic roadblocks.”
Marks said the awareness signs are one of the first things that he brought up as an issue with Olszewski when the two first met, and one that the county executive began to move on quickly.
“It’s something I do care about a lot," Marks said. "Drug abuse is not an urban problem, it happens in suburban and rural communities, too.”
In April 2018, Baltimore County filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Maryland against more than a dozen corporate entities involved in manufacturing and selling opioids, but that case has since been moved as part of a multidistrict litigation case in the Northern District of Ohio against opioid manufacturers and distributors, physicians and chain pharmacies.
Baltimore County Attorney Michael Field said he has received regular updates on the proceedings from outside counsel. As of Aug. 8, the proceedings are still in pretrial phases, according to online court records. A ruling this week in Oklahoma against Johnson & Johnson ordered the company and its subsidiaries to pay the state more than $500 million for its alleged role in the opioid crisis. The ruling could be seen as an encouraging sign for some municipalities and entities in Maryland that have brought their own lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson and other companies.
Baltimore County Police Chief Melissa Hyatt said during the press conference that her officers had used Naloxone, a drug that can counter an opioid overdose, about 135 times this year. Fire Chief Joanne Rund said emergency personnel had used the drug more than 1,200 times in 2019. .
The fire department is also working on training its personnel on how to handle situations where it may be best to leave an extra dose behind with a patient.