The television set flickers, slowly coming to life. Filling the screen is the image of teen-agers laughing and dancing. The camera pans the room, stopping at the lifeless body of a teen-age girl lying on a bed with a glassy look on her face. Suddenly, the picture changes to a cartoon, a smiley face and the words "Happy Heroin Hints."
An authoritative male voice warns of the dangers of heroin use: "Violent fits of vomiting are commonplace. Keep a bucket handy. Heroin -- Dying's the easy part."
TTC Images of death flash by viewers. A heart monitor spells out the word heroin in blue letters to the sound of an erratic heartbeat. The heart stops and the screen goes blank.
Silence fills the room in Westminster Senior Activity Center where the commercials were shown yesterday. The commercials, produced by Partnership for a Drug-Free America, will air on cable television stations in Maryland.
About 70 people gathered yesterday to view the commercials and to discuss the state's sweeping plan to prevent heroin use, a problem that has spread recently to Maryland's suburbs and rural areas.
But after the public service announcements aired, no one uttered a word. It seemed the commercials, unveiled by Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend as part of a 19-point program to curb heroin use, said more than any well-rehearsed speech could.
"Ads help to change attitudes," Townsend said, breaking the silence. "They are key to getting kids to understand that heroin can kill you, and that if it doesn't kill you, it will destroy your life."
That Townsend decided to deliver this message in Carroll County was no accident. The county, once thought to be immune to the drug problems that have historically ravaged Baltimore's inner-city neighborhoods, has had three heroin overdose deaths this year. As recently as 1996, there were none.
Carroll is not alone. Since 1990, the number of deaths in Maryland from heroin overdoses has more than doubled, with the most dramatic increases occurring outside Baltimore.
In Harford and Carroll counties, the number of heroin users in treatment has more than doubled in the past three years. In Anne Arundel and Howard counties, the number has increased by more than 40 percent. Many new addicts are not old enough to vote.
A major reason for the increase in heroin use, law enforcement officials said, is that the drug is being snorted instead of injected. The stigma of the needle is removed, as are risks of exposure to hepatitis or the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
"There's a fallacy, especially among young people, that heroin is not lethal or addictive if it's not injected," said Lt. Leonard Armstrong, commander of the Westminster state police barracks.
For heroin users, the desired effect of the drug includes a slowing of breathing. For most overdose victims, the heroin attacks the part of the brain that controls the respiratory system, causing breathing to stop.
Under Townsend's strategy, the fight against heroin will be waged on several fronts, including enforcement, education and drug monitoring. Her program -- dubbed DEWS, an acronym for Drug Early Warning System -- will go into effect July 1.
Pub Date: 6/11/98