David Pryor, branch director for the Edgewood Boys & Girls Club, talks about how youth members learned about the dangers of drugs during Harford County's inaugural Night of Conversation. (David Anderson)

John Landbeck sat in a corner of the gymnasium at the Edgewood Boys & Girls Club Wednesday evening as he spoke to the young club members gathered around as he talked about the dangers of drugs and how they caused the death of his son, Maxwell, two years ago.

"This is the worst possible outcome of what happens when you use drugs," Landbeck, of Aberdeen, said of his son's death, which happened July 13, 2014.


His wife, Jennilyn, was surrounded by another group of youths near the bleachers during Harford County's inaugural Night of Conversation as she shared similar stories about their son's struggle with addiction.

She urged the teens to avoid marijuana because it was the first narcotic her son used before moving on to harder drugs.

"It's a pathway," she said.

County government, school, law enforcement, health and law enforcement officials, who partnered with local restaurants and supermarkets, encouraged Harford families to spend Wednesday night around the dinner table talking about drugs and how their children can avoid them.

The agreement announced last week between the Harford County Sheriff's Office and University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health on sharing overdose information makes perfect sense and is a reasonable accommodation by both organizations.

Harford County is in the midst of a deadly heroin epidemic that has caused the deaths of about 40 people from drug overdoses so far this year, more than all of the fatal overdoses in 2015.

Fifty-six members of the Edgewood Boys & Girls Club had their conversations Wednesday with the Landbecks along with Joe Ryan and Tara Lathrop, the respective manager and assistant manager of the county's Office of Drug Control Policy.

The members who attended are in grades six or higher, according to David Pryor, the Edgewood branch manager.

One girl asked John Landbeck how he can talk about his son without crying. He and his wife have talked about their son's death, which happened 12 days before his 21st birthday, to a number of youth groups. They and other parents whose children have died because of drug addiction were guest speakers during a series of community meetings about heroin that were held at middle schools around the county last fall.

An emotional Landbeck told the youths there are times when he does cry when talking or thinking about Maxwell. There are other times when he and his family tell stories about Maxwell and they laugh.

"I've gotten used to the sadness," he said.

Landbeck said there are three major lies that drug addicts tell themselves – drugs aren't dangerous, that people can take drugs and survive any ill effects and that "it doesn't matter because my life is so boring or my life is so unhappy, it won't matter if I get hurt."

Jennilyn Landbeck hugs Diamonde Green, of Edgewood, after her talk about her son, Max, who died of a heroin overdose.
Jennilyn Landbeck hugs Diamonde Green, of Edgewood, after her talk about her son, Max, who died of a heroin overdose. (MATT BUTTON | AEGIS STAFF)

He stressed each youth has someone who loves them, and they should return that love by treating themselves well.

"It matters if you're happy," he said.

Jennilyn Landbeck's youths gave her a group hug before they departed.


Boys and Girls Club staff share their experiences and advice, too. Damaris Rivera, the teen coordinator, said her two brothers died from drug overdoses.

"Stop and honestly think about the consequences about, not only how it affects you, but affects the people around you," Rivera said.

Pryor, who is retired from the U.S. Postal Service, warned the teens that if they use drugs at age 18 or 19 and then apply for a job at the post office or another government agency and fail the required drug test, they will not get hired.

They will not be considered for employment there for the next five years, even if they get clean, he said.

Pryor said bearing the insurance costs of putting an employee through rehabilitation, which can cost $30,000 to $40,000, is "not worth it" for the postal service.

"There are choices that you'll make now that will change your whole life," he told the youths.

Harford County’s “Choose Civility” campaign kicked off with a breakfast event at the Water’s Edge Events Center in Belcamp on Wednesday.