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‘We can’t stop’: New effort to fight opioid overdoses uses signs around Carroll County to highlight data

‘We can’t stop’: New effort to fight opioid overdoses uses signs around Carroll County to highlight data
This sign is displayed outside the Sykesville Freedom District Volunteer Fire Department. (Carroll County Health Department)

Locations around Carroll County are now displaying new signs highlighting the good news — and the bad — when it comes to drug overdoses.

The five new signs currently display the number of total overdoses in Carroll in the first six months of 2019, 446, as well as the number of lives lost, 24, and those saved, 422 — along with information on how to get help for substance use disorders.

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The signs were erected over the first months of 2019, after an initial sign was placed in front of the Carroll County Health Department, in Westminster, in October.

“I think the beginning impetus for it was really raising awareness of the situation in the county,” said Valerie Hawkins, Carroll’s emergency management manager and co-chair of the Carroll County Opioid Senior Policy Group, a team of local leaders focused on responding to opioid addiction in Carroll.

Much of the coverage on opioids is national, or statewide, such as when Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency, Hawkins said, but the signs could “put that local face on the situation. To provide folks with information that pertains only to Carroll County to raise that awareness.”

The new signs can be found at the Taneytown branch of the Carroll County Public Library, North Carroll Middle School in Hampstead, the Reese Volunteer Fire Company, the Mount Airy Senior and Community Center and the Sykesville Freedom District Volunteer Fire Department.

Such signage is an effort that has been embraced by other Maryland counties, according to Cathy Baker, deputy local behavioral health authority at the health department and a member of the Opioid Senior Policy Group.

“I went to [Carroll County Health Officer Ed Singer] and said, ‘I’d really like to do this; other counties are standing this up,’ ” Baker said. “I think it’s a really nice way to get out our message to say we’re making a difference.'”

While it’s too early to claim a major trend, recent statistics from the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office, which also provided the statistics for the signs, showed the number of overdoses in the first half of 2019 were half the number in that time frame in 2018.

The signs are meant to highlight that tentative success, Hawkins said, while also continuing to push the message that opioid addiction can kill. She likened it to fire prevention, which emergency management continues to stress even in the absence of fires.

This sign is outside the Reese Volunteer Fire Company.
This sign is outside the Reese Volunteer Fire Company.

“Yeah, it’s great those numbers are coming down, I think it’s absolutely wonderful, but the reason they are coming down, mostly likely, is because of all of the things we have been doing. So we can’t stop,” she said. “It remains a worry, it remains a challenge.”

The cost for all six signs was just $7,200, according to Baker, with costs split between the health department, Sheriff’s Office, Carroll County State’s Attorney’s Office, Carroll Hospital and Carroll County Public Schools.

“We saved installation money because the county installed them,” she said. “They are actually on sheet metal as opposed to plywood, so they will withstand the weather a little. For six signs, it’s not much at all.”

Public comment has been a mix of positive and negative responses, Baker said, with some questioning the use of resources on signs, but others praising their appearance and the positive messaging, and she believes the signs are a worthwhile investment.

Hawkins agrees, and not just because the signs provide a glimpse of the hard work of people in agencies trying to turn the tide when it comes to drug overdoses.

“It’s not just us, but all of the people who are working so hard in recovery. To get in recovery and stay in recovery, that’s hard work,” she said. “They are working hard on that too. It’s truly a communitywide effort, and it needs to stay that way."

This opioid sign is outside the the Mount Airy Senior and Community Center.
This opioid sign is outside the the Mount Airy Senior and Community Center. (Carroll County Health Department)
North Carroll opioid sign
North Carroll opioid sign (Carroll County Health Department)
Taneytown opioid sign
Taneytown opioid sign (Carroll County Health Department)
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