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Westminster Boys & Girls Club receiving state grant to educate at-risk youth about dangers of opioids, substance abuse

The Boys & Girls Club of Westminster is receiving a grant for a portion of a nearly $5.5 million sum from the state Opioid Operational Command Center to address the opioid and substance use crisis, trying to reach young people before they begin experimenting with dangerous and potentially deadly drugs.

Several state officials, including Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford and Health Secretary Dennis Schrader, attended a press conference in Westminster announcing the grant Wednesday morning.


“What we are hoping to accomplish is to make sure we reach young people before they possibly start experimenting with drugs or alcohol,” Rutherford said . “And educate them on the real challenges associated with going in that direction and the problems that can occur.”

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it seemed that the state was making some progress when combatting the opioid epidemic. The number of overdoses, both fatal and non-fatal, were steadily decreasing.


“We were really happy to see that,” said Ed Singer, Carroll County health officer. “It took a long time to turn that corner.”

But as the pandemic-ridden months went by and the state began to reopen, there was an increase in overdose cases, Singer said. COVID-19 and the bolt of economic and mental health crisis it triggered seemed to cause many people to relapse, or even develop a substance abuse disorder, he said.

And with all that went down with the coronavirus, the health department somewhat lost their focus on the opioid crisis, Singer said. For the past year, they have been shifting efforts and resources back to the opioid epidemic, he said.

Singer is happy with the partnership between the state and the Boys and Girls Club. While treatment is important, it can be costly — not just economically, but also emotionally for the families. It’s better to keep people from entering into a substance abuse disorder, rather than coping and dealing with the aftermath.

“It’s just like regular health,” Singer said. “If we can get people into healthy habits and we keep them healthy, we don’t have to worry about managing diabetes or heart conditions.”

The pandemic has exacerbated the challenge of substance abuse disorder, Rutherford said, heightening anxiety and other mental health illnesses.

In 2018, the Maryland Opioid Operational Command Center reported 2,143 opioid-related unintentional fatalities. The number went down to 2,106 in the following year. But in 2020, it rose again to 2,518 fatalities, the highest since 2011.

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This year, the number of cases in the first quarter increased slightly compared to 2020, with 612 cases. In the first three months of 2020, there were 576 deaths related to opioid.


The Westminster-based program from Boys & Girls Club, dubbed SMART Moves, serves children at-risk and acts as a preventative measure for opioid and other substances abuse. While the program provides services for kids from elementary through high school, the COVID-19 pandemic was especially hard for teenagers, the organization’s president Bonnae Mesuhlam said.

The kids in the program are usually at-risk, with many parents and families dealing with issues like substance abuse and homelessness.

With the grant, Mesuhlam hopes the Boys & Girls Club of Westminster will be able to have a professional social worker on site, and continue to do trauma training for all staff. The program also wants to do more community outreach, bringing community partners and the police department to work with the children.

The Opioid Operational Command Center is distributing nearly $10 million to almost 40 projects throughout the state, including prevention programs in school, peer support and mobile crisis services and programs that provide alternatives to incarceration.

The award includes about $4.1 million for treatment and recovery programs, approximately $1.1 million for prevention and education programs and over $300,000 for enforcement and public safety initiatives.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly indicated how much grant funding the Boys & Girls Club of Westminster was receiving from the state.