Staggering numbers [Editorial]

The opioid epidemic in Harford County, as it is in most other places, isn’t getting any better.

While the numbers may disagree, thanks to the hard work, the energy and the commitment to beating this scourge from elected and other government officials as well as just regular folks, Harford County is better positioned to fight addiction than some jurisdictions.

The statistics, as outlined in David Anderson and Erika Butler’s fine stories in Friday’s and today’s Aegis points out, tell a horrible, tragic story.

There have been more than 400 suspected heroin or opioid related overdoses reported and 78 people have died in the first 11 months of the year. In the first 11 months of 2016, there were 246 overdoses and 48 deaths.

Those are increases in overdoses and in fatalities of 60 percent compared to the same time a year ago. And 2016 was worse than 2015. After looking at those numbers, which are almost certainly going to be worse this last month of the year, it seems counterintuitive to say anything other than the opioid epidemic is bad and will continue to worsen. So, here let’s just say it: It is bad and it will get worse.

With that said, Harford County has had real leadership in the fight to stop this plague.

From the get-go, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman has been out front in tackling what was first known as the heroin epidemic, then the opioid epidemic and now, at least in some circles, what is known as the addiction epidemic.

Whatever it’s called, it’s Harford County’s worst health crisis, at least perhaps since tobacco’s ills were confirmed and freely publicized, in modern times when modern medicine can lead the fight to stop the losses.

Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler has also led the way, identifying the opioid crisis as much as a health and societal problem as a criminal one. That position has been huge. Gahler’s agency has been fighting the good fight on two fronts – one as a criminal activity and the other as a mental health behavioral issue.

What a former longtime Harford County law enforcement officer and now Bel Air leader said last week about how the town government also must respond is how many have responded as this epidemic has taken its toll on Harford County living and Harford County lives.

“This town has a reputation that it has a great quality of life, it’s a great place to shop, it’s a great place to raise a family,” Jesse Bane, Bel Air’s town administrator and a former Harford County sheriff, said. “And when you get something like this that suddenly rears its ugly head, we need to do something about that so that not only are we looking to keep that quality of life here and that reputation that we enjoy, but to take those people who live in our town that are dealing with those issues and doing something to help them.”

Many in Harford County have acted in their professional lives, or their personal lives, or both to fight addiction as it has worsened in recent years.

Thanks to those efforts, we’re certain, the opioid epidemic is not as bad as it would otherwise be. Sadly, in the face of heroic people trying to stamp out this curse, the numbers keep getting worse.

All we can say is just keep up the good fight. Much more would be lost without it.

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