The Carroll Drug Task Force has taken on a new challenge: combating the rise of prescription pill abuse.
This became a priority for Detective Steven Rogers, who drove to about 10 to 15 pharmacies around the county and handed out his contact information in April, officially launching the diversions unit to tackle the illegal resale of pharmaceutical drugs. Soon after, the volume of calls was immense from pharmacists worried about filling several prescriptions coming from multiple physicians for just one person.
"It's like having a street level informant that's going to tell you what's going on. That's my pharmacists," Rogers, of the county's drug task force, said.
More than 100 attendees gathered at the Carroll Arts Center Tuesday evening to learn about to the county's emerging drug trends. This year's annual Substance Abuse Awareness Program, sponsored by the Board of Commissioners and hosted by the Carroll County Health Department, focused heavily on prescription pill abuse and the availability of synthetic drugs.
The originally scheduled speaker fell ill and wasn't able to make it. Thus, Rogers and Sgt. Joseph Messinese - the head of the county's drug task force - filled in as the event's guest speakers. And they started with prescription pill abuse.
The rise of this trend is a challenge for law enforcement, according to Messinese. And that's because they're not illegal to possess.
"You can have the pills," Messinese said, "and as long as it's in a container with your name on it, we can't do anything about it."
That's why Rogers began investigating those who are constantly dropping off prescriptions at pharmacies to gather large quantities of pills to sell illegally.
The constant flood of calls Rogers receives paints a portrait of the prescription drug abuse occurring locally.
"This is how bad it is," Messinese said. "We are just scratching the surface of this problem."
Parents are crucial to curbing access to prescription pills. Tactics include keeping an eye on the number of pills they have in their containers and heeding warning signs, such as beady eyes and what Roger called "the stare that goes nowhere."
"Pay attention to your kids and their friends," Rogers said. "You're a parent. Trust your instinct. If you see something that doesn't seem right, ask."
But there's a vicious cycle with stopping prescription drug dealers from selling: It can cause addicts to turn to heroin, Rogers said.
"We see it all the time," Rogers said after the program ended.
Both opioid and heroin deaths rose in Carroll in 2012. Opioid deaths in Carroll increased from seven in 2011 to 27 last year. Heroin deaths rose from two in 2011 to 13 last year, according to Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene data.
The county began crafting its state-mandated Opioid Overdose Prevention Plan, according to Susan Doyle, the director of the health department's Bureau of Prevention, Wellness and Recovery. The implementation to curb overdoses has begun.
"We think we've come up with a really comprehensive plan that's going to address some of these issues," Doyle said.
The guest speakers also addressed synthetic drugs, which are also difficult to crack down on, according to Messinese. This is because the manufacturers of synthetics - which have been previously found in local drug and convenience stores - keep changing the chemicals used to make the drug.
The marketing is catered to kids with pictures of Scooby Doo and the Mad Hatter gracing the front, several officials said at the event. Earlier this year, the Carroll County Health Department presented this problem to the Carroll County Board of Commissioners, and law enforcement is also working to combat the sale of synthetic drugs in the county.
Additionally, an underage drinking video had its premiere. Filmed during the summer in Carroll, the short film featured actors from the local FoolProof improvisational troupe and four Bowie State University students.
The national Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration tasked each state to create such a video to be shown on its website and utilized as an educational tool. The Maryland video depicted the potential consequences of parents permitting underage drinking at a party.
The screening of the film was met with applause and chatter that the video was powerful.