Harford County will expand its effort to fight heroin use among younger teenagers, thanks to a new burst of funding from the state.
The county was awarded a $120,000 grant from the Maryland Behavioral Health Administration toward its battle against heroin, which has been a major focus for County Executive Barry Glassman.
The funding will support two prevention specialist positions to widen the county's outreach to middle schools, as well as community organizations, county spokesperson Cindy Mumby said Thursday.
The positions will not involve new hires, but will use existing employees from the Department of Community Services, she said.
Besides the new grant, Glassman's administration and the Harford County Sheriff's Office will hold a town hall meeting Sept. 9 to update residents on the heroin fight. That will take place from 6:30 p.m. to 9 at Harford Community College's Darlington Hall.
September also will feature a roll-out of the county's partnership with 211, a national, free and confidential resource service for addiction.
The county is working with 211 to "develop a protocol for operators to help families and individuals struggling with addiction," according to a statement.
The county has spent the past several months targeting young teens and their parents with warnings about the dangers of trying heroin. Last winter, Glassman devoted a major portion of his first state of the county address to the county's heroin abuse programs and steps he would take to provide more education, family outreach and addition treatment initiatives.
A previous grant the county receive was used in part for public awareness efforts, including billboards, now in rotation around the county, that warn, "Harford County kids are trying drugs at age 11," and urge parents to "talk to your kids before heroin does."
The new outreach announced Thursday will target middle school students with the same type of drug awareness program that previously has been aimed at high school students, through their parent-teacher associations and usually around prom time, said Mumby, who serves as Glassman's education advisor.
"We will be bringing a similar message to middle schools," she said.
Mumby said prevention is key.
"We are finding this drug is reaching younger and younger kids, so we have got to be where those kids are being affected," she said. "We want to make parents aware that this is happening throughout Harford County, not just in certain schools."
Besides teens, older residents and employees are also being targeted for heroin prevention. Mumby said the county's prevention programs are also available to businesses and faith-based groups.
The new funding will allow more outreach to businesses who may be interested in holding prevention programs for their employees, she said.
The September town hall meeting will include "a discussion of actions by county government and law enforcement to address the epidemic, and opportunities for community input," according to the county.
Heroin prevention has become a priority for governments around Maryland and, like Glassman, Gov. Larry Hogan made it a top focus for his administration after taking office in January.
This article has been updated to reflect that the Harford County Sheriff's Office and the county administration are jointly sponsoring the Sept. 9 town hall meeting.