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Former surgeon general to discuss heroin epidemic in Harford, nation

During his term as U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy released a report on opiates and addiction that emphasized that dependency on opioids and other substances must not be viewed as a character flaw.

Murthy, who was surgeon general from 2014 to 2017, will take part in a panel discussion and question-and-answer session on heroin and opioid addiction on Sept. 14 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Bel Air High School.

“Facing Addiction in Harford County: A Conversation with the 19th Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Vivek Murthy” is yet another way Harford County, along with Addiction Connections Resource Inc., is trying to address the heroin epidemic in the county in new and cutting edge ways, according to Cindy Mumby, spokesperson for Harford County government.

Parents are encouraged to bring their children, middle-schoolers and older, to the event.

Murthy’s hope, according to Mumby, was that his report on addiction “would be a game-changer along the lines of previous surgeon general reports on tobacco, and how we looked at tobacco very differently after concerns came to light about tobacco.”

“This is an opportunity to speak to someone at the highest level of the medical community about his report and its findings,” Mumby said.

Heroin and other opioids continue to cause devastation in Harford County. As of Monday, of the 314 heroin-related overdoses in Harford, 61 have been fatal. That’s already ahead of last year’s 289 total overdoses, 55 of which were fatal.

“You still have so many people who heroin and opiates have them by the throat,” Mumby said. “It’s a terrible struggle to get free, but it can happen. That’s the hopeful part of the message and that treatment does work, there is life after addiction that can be happy and fulfilling.”

The discussion will be mainly a question-and-answer session, according to Mumby, who is urging people who have questions to submit them beforehand to odcp@harfordcountymd.gov.

The Q&A will follow opening remarks by Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford and Harford County Executive Barry Glassman. Others on the panel include executive director of the Maryland Opioid Operational Command Center, Clay Stamp; Harford County Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Canavan; Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler; and Joe Ryan, administrator of the Harford County Office of Drug Control Policy.

“We are so delighted [Dr. Murthy] will be joining us and have an opportunity for him to present what he’s learned, what he knows, what he recommends to the Harford County community,” Mumby said.

As surgeon general, Murthy launched the “TurnTheTideRx” campaign, catalyzing a movement among health professionals to address the national opioid crisis and issued his 400-page report, “Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General's Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health.”

"We will only be successful in addressing addiction — and other illnesses — when we recognize the humanity within each of us. People are more than their disease. All of us are more than our worst mistakes,” Murthy said when he released his report.

The report has three main tenets: addiction is not a moral failing, prevention is key and treatment works, Mumby said.

“All three are very power messages,” she said. “To some extent, we’ve been there all along with these three tenets. As you know, the county executive in his inaugural address really pulled addiction out of the shadows and the real need to acknowledge it is going on not just in Harford County but across the nation.”

The discussion Sept. 14 is another way of addressing the heroin epidemic in Harford, Mumby said. In addition to providing hope and treatment to addicts, the next generation needs to be reached so they never become addicts.

“We encourage parents to start these conversations and help them stop kids from every starting,” she said. “The problem is reached at the next generation, at middle school, elementary school down to the pre-school level.”

Attendees will learn new information about the increase of synthetic opioids and fentanyl in Harford County, why opioids are so addictive; and local, state and national efforts to fight the opioid epidemic. In addition, families will learn about the signs and symptoms to look for, and where to go for help.

Participation in the program supports local Parent Teacher Associations (PTA). The Harford County Office of Drug Control Policy will grant $250 to any Harford County PTA with 100 people in attendance from their school.

The Harford County Sheriff’s HOPE Trailer, which includes a mock bedroom to show parents where to look for drugs, will be available for tours beginning at 5 p.m. prior to the panel discussion. In addition, the Office of Drug Control Policy will host the Fourth Annual Human Rope to Stop the Dope event outside the school from 5 p.m. to 5:55 p.m. During this event, individuals will link arms to form a human “rope” to raise awareness about addiction.

"Addiction Connections Resource is proud to assist in having Murthy share his experiences and the strategies for what works in preventing, treating and educating people about substance use disorder. If you're worried about heroin and opioids in Harford County, you and your family should attend this meeting,” Linda Williams, executive director of Addiction Connections Resource Inc., said.

The tone that has been set by the county executive is that the heroin reaches every ZIP code, Mumby said.

“The idea that this is not in my neighborhood, not in my school, not in my family, that is wrong,” she said. “And we have to stand up as a community and say that it’s wrong, that this monster can reach anyone.”

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