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Cimino: Addiction a never-ending battle

I've been thinking about … trouble right here.

I got an email Monday from my friend Linda Auerback, who is the substance abuse prevention supervisor over at the Carroll County Health Department, telling me that the week of Jan. 23 through Jan. 29 is National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week. The Prevention Office will be sending out a new drug fact each day about the very real issues facing Carroll County. I know they will be using social media to get the information out to teens, parents and community members. I'm hoping to help spread the information also by way of this venue.

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Monday's fact had to do with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid painkiller that is 50 times more potent than heroin. Fentanyl is being illicitly mixed with heroin and cocaine to increase potency but the user is not always aware of the strength of what they are ingesting. There is also the issue of counterfeit pain and anxiety medication sold on the street laced with fentanyl. These pills are disguised to look like frequently prescribed and commonly abused medications such as Xanax, oxycodon and Percocet.

There were 340 fentanyl related deaths in Maryland in 2015 and, between January and September 2016, 738 deaths. In Carroll County during that same period of time there were 12 deaths.

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The Carroll County Health Department has been in the vanguard in this battle against drugs for a long time. Several years ago I participated in a series of public service announcements produced here in Carroll County using the talent of Foolproof, our local improvisational troop, under the direction of Paul Zimmerman. The PSAs acted out the various ways drugs and alcohol impact our daily lives. They are routinely run on the national Fox channel and I have personally heard from people as far away as Colorado who have seen them and thought they recognized someone from Westminster.

We are fortunate in Carroll County to have a successfully functioning Drug Court. People are referred to Drug Court by a prosecutor or defense lawyer or a presiding judge. They go through an intensive program of rehabilitation, counseling, drug and alcohol testing, self-help meetings, bed checks and court appearances stretching out over many months. They must find housing and be employed. At the completion of the program there is a graduation ceremony in court.

I try to attend every one. There is nothing in the world like watching and hearing the stories of people who had been given up on by their families and had given up on themselves. Their stories of getting and staying clean, of having a decent place to live and a job they like, of reconciling with their families always brings tears to my eyes. And, my friends, there is no "typical" addict or alcoholic. They come in all shapes and sizes and from all kinds of backgrounds, not unlike yours and mine. So if you think this problem doesn't affect you, think again.

It would not be right to spotlight this topic without a grateful nod to the many self-help groups that meet daily in Carroll County. You would be hard put to find a local church that doesn't have several meetings a week. There are no "one-size-fits-all" solutions to the problem of substance abuse. I spoke recently to a man celebrating 30 years of sobriety who was a high power executive in a Fortune 500 company. He lost everything including his family. He has devoted his life to helping others. The day we spoke he had just found out that a friend of his had "fallen off the wagon." As he put it, "Addiction is a never-ending battle."

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Audrey Cimino is executive director of the Community Foundation of Carroll County. She writes from Westminster.

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