The second of Harford County's anti-drug information meetings aimed at middle-school parents drew another large crowd to Fallston Middle School to hear about the dangers of heroin and other drugs Wednesday.
About 200 people filled the middle school gym to hear the grim local statistics about drug and alcohol use in a presentation led by Joe Ryan, the county's drug policy director. The county government posted on social media that 240 parents and students attended.
Many in the audience were moved by Sandra "Sandi" Gallion, who shared her story of losing her son, Nolan Gallion III, 24, to heroin abuse in January. Sandi Gallion is a Level-area resident whose family is active in fire and emergency medical services.
"I think the mother's speech was pretty powerful," Forest Hill's Joe VanDalsum, who has an 8th-grade student at Fallston Middle and a 10th-grade student at Fallston High School, said.
He pointed out the Gallions, because of their involvement in fire and EMS, knew the dangers of drugs, but their son was still susceptible.
Mike Gigliotos, another Forest Hill parent with a 7th-grade student at Fallston Middle, added: "It definitely put an emotional level to it."
Harford County has been offering six information meetings at middle schools, part of an effort to keep younger residents from trying drugs.
The remaining four presentations come to Aberdeen Middle School this Tuesday, North Harford Middle School on Oct. 22, Edgewood Middle School on Oct. 28 and Southampton Middle School on Nov. 5. All presentations are at 6:30 p.m.
"I think it was one of the best presentations I have heard in months," Fallston's Mike Hayden said. "I can't say enough. Every parent should come to one of these meetings."
Hayden is a chaplain for the Fallston Volunteer Fire Company, who is training to be an emergency medical technician, and he brought his son, Billy, 13, a Fallston Middle School student, to Wednesday's meeting.
"I go to some of these incidents, and it breaks your heart," Hayden explained about drug-related calls for help. "You have got to look out for your children...I wanted my son to hear the reality of what it [the drug] is doing, and they did such a great job expressing how valuable our kids are."
Billy Hayden also said he thought the presentation was "good."
Bente Uhlig, another attendee, said she had been a foster mother for five years.
She called the presentation "really good, but, honestly, I wish they would talk more about how to talk to our kids about [drug use]."
"It's affecting not just the addicts but the next generation," she said about children who are impacted by parents who use heroin. "At what age do I start talking to them? But, I am glad at least the discussion is happening about heroin."
Uhlig lives in Bel Air, which, as Sheriff's Office Lt. Lee Dunbar noted during the presentation, has seen the largest number of overdoses in Harford County this year.
With 145 overdoses so far, Dunbar told the crowd: "It is the most dangerous drug we have out there right now."
The most recent overdose was also in Bel Air, suffered by a young man who was overdosing for his third time, Dunbar said.
Joe VanDalsum, of Forest Hill, said afterward he came to get "some insight as to what to look for," particularly for marijuana use, in teens, but he was shocked to hear the recovery rate for heroin use is only 3 percent.
"That hit me between the eyes," he said. "You can't get out of it; that's the scary thing."
Mike Gigliotos also said about heroin use: "It's like a slippery slope you can't get out of."
He said he was not especially concerned about his children using drugs, but is worried about "something thrown at you" where a child takes "some weird turn" into drugs.
Although he feels like his children "are a million miles away from this," it could still happen.
Sandi Gallion and Joe Ryan, director of the Harford County Office of Drug Control Policy, echoed a public service announcement ad made recently by the county that urges parents to search their children's belongings for any sign of unusual or potential drug-related activity.
"Your kids are living under your roof; they have no privacy. Make sure they don't," Gallion warned parents in the audience. "You never know who is going to be addicted."