Opioid crisis response personnel from across the state and County Commissioner Stephen Wantz praised agencies in Carroll for their collaboration when it comes to dealing with the deadly epidemic.
Agencies from across the county came together for a forum Wednesday to discuss what has been done under the Not in Carroll initiative funded by the commissioners in 2014. Wantz, R-District 1, organized the day's events, which were held at Carroll Community College and open to the public.
"I think that's what distinguishes Carroll County because we look at other jurisdictions and they don't seem to have the unity of response and single-mindedness of response that we have here," said Carroll Community College President James Ball.
Attending agencies included the Carroll County Health Department, the county Sheriff's Office, the county State's Attorney's Office, the Volunteer Emergency Services Association, Carroll Community College, Carroll County Public Schools, Carroll Hospital, Carroll County Public Library and Access Carroll, among others.
"We see each other, most of us in this room, a lot," Wantz said. "I think the advantages of being able to come together under one roof in one room to talk about where we are, what we've done and where we're going is very important because this continues to be a challenge not just for us, but across the state."
Clay Stamp, executive director of the Opioid Operational Command Center, made the first presentation on opioid crisis response statewide. The command center was created through an executive order signed by Gov. Larry Hogan in March.
"I travel Maryland from border to border, and Carroll County's right up there as far as one of the most active counties in the state of Maryland," Stamp said. He continued, however, by saying, "At the end of the day, we need to reduce the number of fatalities and nonfatal overdoses, and that's not happening yet. So we have work to do."
According to Stamp, more than 2,000 people in Maryland died as a result of a drug overdose in 2016. More than 550 have died this year, most in cases involving fentanyl. In addition, there have been more than 18,000 visits to the emergency room for nonfatal overdoses.
Several of the main agencies dealing with opioid response in the county then delivered reports on their involvement with the three prongs of drug response: prevention, enforcement and treatment.
Carroll County State's Attorney Brian DeLeonardo reaffirmed his confidence in the decision to designate Carroll County as a High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) through the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy. He said that the national program has allowed the county to share data with other jurisdictions and better combat the crisis with funding and resources.
One such data-sharing resource is ODMAP, software that HIDTA is providing for free to all jurisdictions involved in the program.
Jeff Beason, deputy director and chief of staff at the Washington/Baltimore office of HIDTA presented on the software, which can be used in real-time by first responders to log overdoses. This data creates an interactive map that is used to track and even predict overdose spikes in certain areas.
For example, he said an overdose spike in Baltimore would be important information for Carroll responders who would likely see a related spike in their area.
DeLeonardo also talked about his office's Prosecution Major Offenders Unit, which collaborates with law enforcement to identify violent offenders and large-quantity sellers. "Since the inception of that unit in 2015, we have convicted approximately 24 or 25 of those people," he said.
From the prevention side, he talked about the office's work with CCPS, including a new initiative with eighth-graders, "not only telling them 'just say no,' but teaching them how to say no," and a new program to help parents identify signs that a teenager is doing drugs. Parents will go into a mockup of a bedroom and try to identify the signs and paraphernalia associated with drug use.
Funding is also expected to be secured to update the "Heroin Kills" video, which was created in the late-1990s in Carroll and is still used today across the country as an educational tool.
DeLeonardo also praised the commissioners for funding the position of drug education and treatment liaison, currently held by Tim Weber, which is unique among state's attorney's offices in the state, he said.
Sheriff Jim DeWees called Weber "one of the most valuable assets that have come out of the funding that the commissioners have afforded us with," and said, "I think the addition of another liaison is extremely timely and important."
One initiative implemented in the last several months with the help of Weber was an initiative identifying people who have repeatedly overdosed and attempting to get them into treatment. Of the 43 people identified in the last six months, 14 have been placed in treatment.
He also mentioned their Early Intervention Program created in collaboration with the Health Department that is designed to target early users who are nonviolent offenders. The office will work with those who successfully complete the treatment to help clean their record so they can find employment. There are 21 people enrolled in the program and there have been four successful graduates.
The first graduate of the program, who recently celebrated 18 months clean, spoke at the forum. The woman, who had a military background before she began using, stressed that "the disease of addiction shows no discrimination."
She is now enlisted in the Army and thanked the Early Intervention Program for changing her life.
DeWees began by speaking about the comprehensive report of data created monthly by his office, called the overdose investigative summary, which allows various agencies in Carroll to collaborate and identify where there are the most issues. The report is broken down by the drug used in the overdose and the patrol area in which the incident occurred.
As of the end of August, DeWees said his office had responded to 349 overdoses, 28 of which resulted in death. The majority of those deaths, he said, were in the area surrounding Westminster. These numbers do not include those incidents responded to by fire and EMS first-responders.
The report also includes the amount of naloxone administered by Sheriff's Office deputies year to date, an amount DeWees called "staggering." They had administered the overdose medication 31 times this year through August. In 2016, it was administered 15 times.
DeWees said that carrying naloxone is a necessity for rural law enforcement officers who may often be the first to arrive in an overdose situation and cannot wait for an ambulance.
He also addressed a mistaken belief regarding who is committing drug offenses in Carroll that he said is widespread.
"I wanted to dispel some of the rumors about the [Carroll County] Detention Center in that it is filled with people that are not from this county. That is not true," he said. "The overwhelming majority of people in my jail are Caucasian men that come from this county. So that thought of people coming from other counties to commit crimes is not the case. It does happen, but the majority of people we arrest are from this county."
Regarding the detention center, which he oversees, he said he hopes the county will soon be able to implement a day-reporting program, which will allow them to screen for offenders who could remain under intense supervision postconviction, but would not be housed in the jail.
"I currently have 201 individuals in a jail that only holds 185," he said.