Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski came to Carroll County yesterday, shaking hands and bantering with a crowd at the County Office Building, where she addressed such weighty problems as heroin abuse, prescription drugs and transportation issues.
"What do I need to know to be your voice in Washington?" she asked the county commissioners and several of their department heads during an afternoon meeting in Westminster.
The Democratic senator, who is on an annual tour of the state, reminded the group that she had secured nearly $700,000 in grants for Carroll last year. Those included money for low-income housing for families and the chronically ill and crime prevention programs.
She heard a litany of problems that county officials would like federal dollars to address. She learned of a tremendous increase in drug abuse, a shortage of nurses, the high costs of living faced by the elderly, funding needs for special education and transportation issues.
The most astounding problem was Carroll's more than 400 percent increase in heroin use, she said. Prevention programs are crucial, she said, and she stressed the need for such activities, particularly in after-school hours.
When health officials asked for Mikulski's support in their efforts to build a long-term residential treatment facility in the county, she offered to intercede with the state on Carroll's behalf. She also promised the county would have access to every federal dollar to which it is entitled as it battles drug abuse.
"I am troubled about the impact on family and community," she said. "I am puzzled why heroin is spreading in a rural community where people have undertaken big commutes and big mortgages to get away from such problems. Something has gone wrong."
So troubled was Mikulski that when she later addressed a group of Western Maryland College students, she reiterated the statistics and called on the group to get involved in community service.
"We need you involved in the community," she said to about 100 students.
"We are on the same page as far as education, drug prevention and nursing," said Commissioner Donald I. Dell.
Mikulski devoted much of her 90-minute visit with the commissioners to the high cost of medicines and nursing care.
"I am confident in saying that this Congress won't go home without passing a prescription drug bill," she said.