Overdose numbers aren't everything in prevention, Carroll agencies say

Overdose numbers aren't everything in prevention, Carroll agencies say
Through contests in schools, students created anti-drug artwork they felt would target their peers. The winning piece, above, is now displayed on Md. 140. (Contributed)

Various Carroll County officials, in various ways, said Thursday that the number of overdose deaths is not indicative of Not in Carroll’s success.

They did so at the Board of County Commissioners’ Sept. 20 meeting, where Carroll County State’s Attorney Brian DeLeonardo — along with Carroll County Sheriff Jim DeWees, Carroll County Health Officer Ed Singer and Carroll County Youth Service Bureau Executive Director Lynn Davis — discussed what has come from the 2018 funding for Carroll’s drug abuse prevention campaign called Not in Carroll.

Board of Commissioners Opiate Epidemic Overview, September 20, 2018

Representatives from the respective agencies were asked earlier in the summer by the commissioners to come to a meeting to speak on their drug prevention efforts, with data.

“One of the things I know I was concerned about,” said Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, “there’s obviously a lot of effort being put forth, a lot of coordination and good partnership — but sometimes in the community there’s a feeling like we aren't doing enough, or some of the things we are doing are not effective because we are seeing a rising tide in activity.

“Can you say anything to that?” he asked.

They could. The groups shared information on how their agencies have been battling the opioid epidemic — through Not in Carroll funding and grants — during presentations at the meeting Thursday that took more than two hours to share.

“We are seeing a downward trend in nonfatal overdoses,” Singer said. “We are also seeing an increase in the number of people in treatment. We are doing all kinds of things with outreach and education.

“But it’s the number. We are tying everything to the number of deaths from overdoses but we are not seeing death from straight heroin anymore. We are seeing deaths from fentanyl and carfentanil,” synthetic drugs that are several times more potent than heroin, Singer said.

“The one measure we keep looking at is overdose deaths.”

According to Sheriff’s Office statistics, there were 48 fatal overdoses in Carroll in 2017. That number this year is 49 through Sept. 1 with 21 of those deaths attributed to fentanyl and eight to heroin.

“I'd like to talk about some things we can do to help,” Singer continued. “I think we really are making progress. But I don’t think the numbers from deaths are an accurate measure of what we are doing. … You watch this number continue to climb and it’s very frustrating to everyone.”

DeWees said he felt the same way.

“We live month to month by these statistics,” he said. “We wait for them to come out. We shake our heads. Are we doing enough? I think all of our officers sit there and ask, ‘Are we doing enough?’

“If there’s a new program out there, we try to institute it,” DeWees said. “But I agree. It’s so hard to use that as a measure. I can’t imagine if we weren’t doing what we’re doing what would be happening.”

The Carroll County state’s attorney said looking at the county’s overdose numbers in comparison to surrounding jurisdictions is one way to get an idea of how well Not in Carroll is working.

“I heard in the budget [meetings], ‘Oh, it keeps going up so what’s the point? Is it effective? What are we doing?’ ” DeLeonardo said. “We don't want to focus on one indicia. Even if we focus on intoxication deaths, one thing we have to look at is how we stack up regionally.”


According to data from the CCSO, there have been 367 overdoses in the county so far this year.

DeLeonardo said data from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene from 2015 to 2017 indicates that overdose numbers have increased — but Carroll’s increase was only 37 percent.

“Those around us were sometimes double or triple in that increase,” DeLeonardo said. “I believe we are making a difference. We are absolutely making a difference.

“I think it’s very important to put this in context,” he said. “If I look at the opiate death increases, it is similar that we are the lowest among these.”