Editorial: Prevention, education efforts crucial to winning war on opioids

Carroll County’s overdose numbers for 2018 don’t do much to inspire hope.

Data from the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office, which is unofficial and only includes overdoses that required a law enforcement response — showed the total number of overdoses essentially even with 2017. And overdoses attributed to heroin only actually dropped somewhat.


Fatalities related to all overdoses spiked quite a bit, however, with 71 deaths recorded by Carroll law enforcement agencies in 2018 — a number that could still go up pending the results of investigations by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. That’s a nearly 45 percent increase over 49 deaths recorded in 2017.

The number of fatal overdoses is being driven by powerful synthetic drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil, both of which are hundreds of times more potent than morphine. Fentanyl was the culprit in more than 70 percent of Carroll’s overdose deaths the past two years.

Since the epidemic really began to take hold approximately five years ago, a lot of resources have gone toward helping those struggling with substance abuse to get into treatment and break the cycle of addiction.

One example of that in Carroll County was drug court, which gave criminal offenders with addiction issues an opportunity to choose treatment over incarceration. Anecdotally, the program has proven successful for those who complete it. But there are fewer people entering drug court. At the program’s height in fiscal year 2016, there were 40 participants. That number has dropped each year and, through early November of 2018, just 20 people had entered drug court in fiscal year 2019. According to State’s Attorney Brian DeLeonardo, that’s because too many people are dying from fentanyl before those individuals even end up in the court system, where drug court may be an option.

So while finding ways to help those who do survive an overdose or who are struggling with addiction but haven’t yet overdosed should remain a priority, when just one dose of fentanyl would prove to be lethal, it’s even more important that efforts are made to limit illicit drug flow and educate people on the dangers of trying opioids and other substances.

In that regard, 2019 will bring several initiatives we haven’t tried before, and doubling-down on ones that have proven successful in the past, when it comes to prevention.

Carroll County is one of three jurisdictions in Maryland, along with Anne Arundel County and Baltimore City, that has received crime statistics software that will crunch data to try to make connections that could lead law enforcement to higher-level drug dealers and networks of drug suppliers.

That’s a new initiative through the Maryland Criminal Information Network and we’re eager to see how effective it will be. We’re also hopeful that more counties in the region, including Baltimore, Howard, Frederick and others will be able to acquire the software in the not-so-distant future, as the more data that can be entered into the system, the more effective it is likely to be.

Later this month, DeLeonardo and the Carroll County Health Department are inviting the public to view the premiere of “Heroin Still Kills,” at 7 p.m. Jan. 22 at the Scott Center at Carroll Community College. The original “Heroin Kills” educational video released some 20 years ago during a heroin epidemic in the 1990s was used nationally and internationally as a powerful and effective awareness tool. The remake hopes to have the same effect, especially locally, with plans for it to be shown to students in school once the curriculum is approved.

Finally, the Hogan administration recently announced funding for several initiatives to expand substances use and treatment efforts. Carroll County will receive more than $35,000 for the Chamber of Commerce’s Drug and Violence Awareness Expo, which is held in the spring. The event is aimed at young people to raise awareness about the dangers of drug use and other behaviors.

Carroll and other jurisdictions should not shift attention from treatment and recovery aspects of this battle, but remember that, particularly as lethal synthetic substances leave less opportunity for recovery, education and prevention efforts are how the war will be won.