Vernon Herron made a presentation last year to the federal judge overseeing police reform in Baltimore, telling him no one’s safe from the grip of opioid abuse.
“I would have been naïve if I said to him that officers don’t get addicted to opioids,” said Herron, who runs safety and wellness programs for the Baltimore Police Department.
Now, his words ring true — the scourge of opioid abuse has hit the force.
Officer Joseph Banks Jr. overdosed on heroin and died Friday at a motel in Halethorpe. The 25-year-old, who is the son of a city police officer, had been using drugs throughout the day with his girlfriend, she told police.
Banks had sought help — officials call it “intervention” — from the safety and wellness office for a confidential matter, Herron said.
His office assists hundreds of officers with everything from addiction to divorce counseling. He declined to say what brought Banks in.
“Like a lot of police officers, sometimes we are so hyper-vigilant that we medicate ourselves. I’m not talking specifically about him, but I see officers over-medicate themselves to deal with the stresses of police work,” Herron said.
Banks had been assigned to juvenile booking. A police spokesman said the officer had been suspended from the force when he died. The spokesman declined to say what caused Banks’ suspension.
The officer and his 24-year-old girlfriend from Essex had been taking drugs at Tim’s Motel on Washington Boulevard, Baltimore County police wrote in a report. Officers redacted his girlfriend’s name.
She told police Banks used the last of the drugs around 11 p.m.
“He began to make noises as if he was struggling to breathe,” police wrote.
She contacted a friend for Narcan to counteract the overdose. Then she returned to the motel and tried to administer the medicine, police wrote. Unsuccessful, she called for help at 3:10 a.m.
Paramedics were unable to resuscitate Banks.
The officer’s death, Herron said, will push officials to find new ways to locate and help addicted cops.
“We’re trying to develop some programs,” he said. “We want to make sure our officers are safe.”
On Tuesday, Banks’ family gathered with a chaplain at his home in Northeast Baltimore. His father, Joseph Banks Sr., said he was not yet ready to talk about his son.
The girlfriend did not return messages.
About 1,650 people overdosed and died after taking opioids during the first nine months of last year, state health officials reported. That’s an 8 percent increase from the same months in 2017.
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Meanwhile, police officers around Maryland have fallen victim to opioids such as heroin and painkillers.
Last August, a Hagerstown sergeant killed himself a week before he was to stand trial for stealing painkillers. In Anne Arundel County, a crime lab manager pleaded guilty to raiding drop boxes of opioids. In Washington, D.C., the FBI found one of its agents disoriented with baggies of heroin in his car.
Aberdeen Police Lt. Dan Gosnell became hooked on opioid painkillers after surgery. His addiction deepened over months and years, bringing him to snort heroin off his desk in the police station.
Gosnell was arrested and lost his job. Now he works at a Havre de Grace rehab center and travels to sobriety meetings, warning police and everyone else about the threat of opioid addiction.
He was invited to discuss officer addiction at a summit next month in Hagerstown.
After hearing of Bank’s death — yet another officer to overdose — Gosnell said: “It’s still sad and heartbreaking and absolutely freaking tragic.
“Does it surprise me? Absolutely not.”