The Board of County Commissioners voted Thursday to concur with a strategy proposed by the Carroll County Health Department for curbing drug overdoses and helping people in mental health crisis.

With commissioners Doug Howard, R-District 5, and Steven Wantz, R-District 1, absent, the three remaining commissioners voted unanimously to support the health department's efforts to form a mobile crisis team.


Such a team would consist of licensed social workers and peer counselors, county Health Officer Ed Singer told the board, and, working in two shifts to cover evening hours, would be available to help people having a mental health crisis. Police in Carroll, while well-trained in dealing with those in crisis, he said, presently have only one option after hours.

"Right now what they've got, they wind up with these folks and they are in a situation where they can't leave them on the park bench," Singer told the commissioners. "They take them to the emergency department and they don't meet the need for medical necessity so .. they are discharged back on the street."

Mobile crisis services have been very successful in 21 other Maryland jurisdictions, Singer said, and the health department had already found funding for one shift of such services in Carroll County.

The $138,000 recently awarded to Carroll County by the Maryland Opioid Operations Command Center, part of $4 million allocated by Gov. Larry Hogan to help combat opioid addiction in the state, will provide funding for a second shift to cover overnight hours.

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"I was hopeful we would get the support of the commissioners and I thought we would because we have been working with quite a large number of people to make sure we have a coordinated effort on this," Singer said in an interview.

The Opioid Operations Command Center had asked the health department and Carroll County Emergency Management to form a group of county agency representatives to discuss what the county's priorities might be in addressing addiction and overdoses when given additional funding, Singer said. After meeting in May, crisis intervention services and a mobile crisis team were the No. 1 priority decided upon by the group.

"One of the things that I liked about it was somebody would be there on the off hours. It wasn't just the regular 9 to 5," said Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, in an interview about the vote. "The off hours, those are the times that a lot of people experience crises. To have someone there that can help them, that's very important."

Singer also discussed how two other priorities decided during the meeting in May, both of which are in the works, could have an impact on the number of drug overdoses in Carroll, but do not require additional funding.

The second priority, he told the commissioners, was closing the gap between the hospital and drug treatment services, specifically asking Carroll Hospital to allow someone who has come in for a drug overdose to stay there until treatment is available.

"Access Carroll is expanding services to seven days a week for mobile detox … right now they can only take patients on Monday because they are available five days a week," Singer told the commissioners. "The hospital has agreed that if Access Carroll is going to be having seven-days-a-week services that they will hold people in the emergency room — not involuntarily, but voluntarily in the emergency room — for up to 24 hours."

This could give the hospital an opportunity to transport a willing person directly to Access Carroll for treatment, rather than asking that they follow up later, Singer said.

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"A lot of times if you overdose, you get the Narcan and you are OK; you actually could just get up and walk away," Frazier said in an interview. "They give you information and 'we will get back to you when we can.' Well, you lost them."

One of the biggest challenges for the health department when it comes to addiction, Singer said, is filling all those gaps between different services, so people do not fall between the cracks. The third priority discussed was the health department following up with repeat victims of overdose.

"We're running into a lot of impediments here because of concern about HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996] and privacy," Singer told the commissioners.


"We have been back and forth with the attorney general's office at [the Maryland Department of Health] and talking to [Opioid Operational Command Center Executive Director] Clay Stamp about getting a statewide message out that it's OK to share this information with the health departments for public health intervention."

The idea, Singer said, is to get emergency medical professionals to let the health department know when people are non-fatally overdosing so the department can follow up with information, offers of treatment and naloxone, the opioid and heroin antidote medication.

"Right now these people are seeing EMS and that's it," Singer said.

Singer, his team and community partners are already working toward the second and third priorities. Now that the commissioners and the health department are on the same page, he hopes the mobile crisis team will soon be on the way — the funding is there for an agency or nonprofit to provide the services.

"My hope is by sometime early August we will be able to get the RFP [request for proposal] out on the street for people to take a look at," he said. "Maybe September, or at the latest early October, we would actually be able to have a team stood up and operating. That's my goal."

As to how long that funding will be available, Singer is also hopeful.

"The governor has made this five-year commitment to providing these funds for the Opioid Operational Command Center," Singer said. "I can't say for sure where that's going to be next year, but with a five-year commitment, I am hoping we will continue to get the same level of funding."