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To beat heroin in Harford, talk to your kids in a Night for Conversation Nov. 16

To beat heroin in Harford, talk to your kids in a Night for Conversation Nov. 16
Prescription drugs are a major gateway to opioid abuse and addiction in Harford County, including for teens and younger children, according to information presented at the third and final community heroin workshop Monday night at North Harford High School. (Harford County government / Baltimore Sun)

Harford County government, health and law enforcement leaders say the key to beating the heroin epidemic is for parents to talk to their kids.

To that end, the newest effort in the fight against heroin abuse is the first Harford County Night for Conversation on Wednesday, Nov. 16.

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Harford County Executive Barry Glassman promoted the newest initiative in his opening remarks during the third and final 2016 Heroin Prevention and Awareness Briefing Monday evening at North Harford High School.

"Research shows nothing is as important as parents talking to their children about the dangers of drugs and alcohol," Glassman told the audience of mostly parents and children.

That's a theme other speakers repeated and reinforced.

"We have to keep the conversation alive so we can keep our kids alive," Joe Ryan, of the Harford County Office of Drug Control Policy, said.

Harford County parents and caregivers are invited to "feed awareness" by having dinner with their families and talking to their children about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, according to a county government announcement.

At the same time parents are, hopefully, having conversations with their children, the Harford County Office of Drug Control Policy will be hosting a presentation and large group discussion from 5 p.m. to 7 for members of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Harford County's Edgewood Unit.

"For expert advice and information," the announcement states, "Harford County's Office on Drug Control Policy staff will be on hand Nov. 16 from 6-8:30 p.m. Families may call 410-638-333 anonymously or privately message the experts via Facebook on the Harford County Office of Drug Control Facebook page."

The first Harford County Night of Conversation for families with children in pre-school through high school is sponsored by the Harford County government in partnership with Harford County Public Schools, libraries, sheriff's office, health department and participating restaurants and grocery stores, according to the announcement.

To help spur family discussions, "conversation cards" created by the Harford County Office of Drug Control Policy will offer tips for parents including age-appropriate conversation starters. Parents are also encouraged to help their kids practice refusal skills and plan how to escape peer-pressure situations.

Participants in the Night of Conversation can take a short survey about their experiences and enter to win a $250 Visa gift card.

"You can lie," Ryan told the kids in Monday night's audience at the heroin briefing at North Harford High School. "It's OK to lie at this point in time."

Ryan and others emphasized that whatever kids have to do to escape situations where they may be exposed to drug or alcohol abuse, they should do, including telling a lie. A lie might help them avoid getting in too deep, Ryan said, and keep them alive.

"That's the main goal, stopping these deaths," he said.

Glassman opened Monday's session by explaining that the speakers who would follow him would be offering good information to parents and their children on ways to keep kids safely off the path to addiction and destruction.

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"To win the battle, we must know our enemy," the county executive said, emphasizing that, up to this point, the enemy is winning.

"Sadly, the numbers are rising," he said.

Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler followed Glassman and presented those bad numbers. He said 36 people have died from heroin overdoses so far this year, compared to 27 in all of 2015.

"If you only take one thing out of tonight," Gahler told the audience, "never, ever try it. One time is too many."

Gahler, a 1983 North Harford High School graduate, said a one-time experiment could lead to death.

"There aren't many things that you can't come back from after trying it one time," the sheriff said. "Heroin is one of them."

Harford County Public Schools are also working hard to save kids from alcohol and drug abuse that, in too many cases, leads to heroin abuse.

Ginny Popiolek, HCPS supervisor of health and physical education, outlined some of the ways students are being taught to avoid or escape dangerous drug and alcohol situations.

As part of National Teen Driver Safety Week, Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler and other officers greeted high schoolers to spread awareness about the dangers of distracted driving. (Capital News Service)

"We look at different ways to say no," she said. "We encourage them to talk to their parents."

Those talks, Popiolek said, help kids find ways to stay safe.

"Parents talk to your students ahead of time," she said. "Tell them it's OK to use us as your way out."

One trick is to have a student call their parents about the time they're supposed to be picked up, as a possible signal to the parents that their child needs to get out of that situation immediately.

Popiolek also said the schools to look out for themselves, particularly in matter of health and safety.

"We also train them to be health advocates," she said.

The schools are teaching to be more cognizant of how doctors are treating them, especially when it comes to prescribing medicines for them to use. Many addicts make the leap from prescription painkillers to the deadly heroin.

Popiolek said the school system is particularly concerned about its athletes because they get hurt and sometimes part of the recovery is painkillers that can start them down the path to addiction.

More than 70,000 conversation cards parents can use as talking points are being distributed.

"Our first annual Night of Conversation creates a safe time for kids to come forward and ask questions," Glassman said earlier. "Most importantly, we want parents to help their children plan and practice what to do and say when they are offered drugs."

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