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Editorial: Reboot of 'Heroin Kills' can be part of solution

With every new overdose report looking bleaker than the last, the temptation is just to throw your hands in the air and give in to the notion that nothing can halt the opioid epidemic or stem the tide of drug fatalities. But we can’t give in to that temptation any more than those in recovery can give in and return to their old way of life.

We must continue to try. New methods need to be employed and, in some cases, old methods need to be rebooted. The latter was occurring Saturday at Carroll Community College, where local actors were being filmed for an updated version of “Heroin Kills.”

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That came about thanks to funding from the State’s Attorney’s Office, which recently received a federal grant for $14,985 through the Justice Assistance Grant. State’s Attorney Brian DeLeonardo said the money was being “earmarked for a couple exciting projects.” One of those projects is the “Heroin Kills" reboot, which is getting $5,000 from his office, DeLeonardo said.

The original 35-minute video that was produced some two decades ago told the story of a young man and others who lost their lives to overdoses in the late 1990s. It seemed to make a difference as it was integrated not only into the Carroll County Public Schools curriculum, but into that of other counties and states and even other countries, according to Linda Auerback, substance use prevention supervisor at the Carroll County Health Department, and the producer of the original “Heroin Kills.”

“It was a single message just to warn people," DeLeonardo said of the original video. “The current epidemic is more complicated.”

When Auerback told us about the plan to do a new “Heroin Kills,” she said they were looking for teenagers, perhaps a female as the central character, with roles for parents, teachers, coaches and others with a realistic plot that would resonate in 2018 thanks to consultation with those still in active addiction.

“The “Heroin Kills” reboot will provide an opportunity to address those aspects of the current epidemic that are different from the late-1990s, such as the role of prescription opioid medications, and especially the powerful synthetic drug fentanyl. It will also touch on recovery.

Everyone involved hopes the sequel can somehow be effective in an era when overdose numbers dwarf those from 20 years ago.

Carroll County saw a 76 percent increase in fatal drug and alcohol overdoses in the first six months of 2018 over the first half of 2017, according to statistics from the Carroll County’s Sheriff’s Office. That office recorded 44 overdose deaths from January through June this year as compared to 25 such fatalities recorded in the first six months of 2017, and 48 in all of 2017.

The state of Maryland this week released final 2017 overdose statistics as well as numbers for the first quarter of 2018. Heroin and prescription drug overdoses seem to have stabilized somewhat statewide, but fentanyl deaths are climbing exponentially. Five hundred people died in Maryland of fentanyl overdoses over the first three months of the year.

DeLeonardo said the JAG money would also go to a video for parents about early detection. The parents video, DeLeonardo said at the July 19 Board of County Commissioners meeting, will accompany the Threats in Plain Sight, or TIPS, program that teaches parents how to point out the “not-so-obvious” signs of potential drug use. The funds will also go toward more Stamp Out Heroin cards, with a guide to treatment resources for distribution to members of the community who have suffered overdoses, and a new drug prevention billboard.

Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, said during the meeting that he’s heard residents who are concerned that despite efforts to battle drug abuse and addiction the problem is increasing.

In the short term, it’s unclear whether any of the new initiatives, including the “Heroin Kills” reboot, can make an impact. Long-term, however, the belief is that everything that is being done will contribute to changing the course. Carroll County Health Officer Ed Singer told us recently that prevention efforts among middle- and high school-age students may be the key to solving this problem.

“We really put a dent in smoking by telling those kids at a young age that this is a bad thing,” he said. “It took a long time to have an impact on smoking. It will probably take a long time to have an impact on this crisis.”

He’s probably right. Certainly, we must continue to try. Let’s hope the new “Heroin Kills,” expected to premiere before the end of the year, becomes part of the solution.

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