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Community is key in addiction battle in Harford, panel members say

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Volunteer Sandy Hartsock guided visitors Trish Orndorff and David Woods through the Harford County Sheriff’s Office HOPE House trailer, showing them how everyday objects in the home can be converted into hiding places for drugs or weapons.

Hairbrushes, deodorant containers, hairspray cans, lamp bases, even D-cell batteries can be used to hide drugs and drug paraphernalia. Hartsock showed the pair how a small revolver can be hidden inside a pillow, and a parent who comes into their child’s room to fluff the pillow is none the wiser.

The HOPE trailer was parked on Wednesday evening outside Mountain Christian Church’s Abingdon campus, behind the Boulevard at Box Hill shopping center. It was there as part of an event hosted by the church and Harford County’s four Rotary clubs — Aberdeen, Bel Air, Havre de Grace and southern Harford — to bring the community together to discuss Harford’s deadly opioid crisis and ongoing efforts to solve it.

Don Mathis, board president for Addiction Connection Resources and a member of the Havre de Grace Rotary, moderated two panel discussions at the church. He said about 80 people attended.

Rotary is an international community service organization, with 1.2 million members and more than 35,000 clubs worldwide, according to its website. Mathis said focusing on how the organization can help in the opiod crisis is a priority for Rotary organizations throughout Maryland.

“There is reason for hope in spite of the escalating number of overdoses and the drug crisis ... and that what makes a difference is when community people come together to find a solution,” Mathis said.

Two hundred people have died from drug overdoses in Harford County since the Sheriff’s Office began recording fatal and non-fatal overdoses, displaying weekly tallies on message boards outside its facilities, in 2015.

There have been 136 overdoses, 35 of them fatal, so far in 2018, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler told the County Council this week that fatalities this year have increased 12 percent compared to the same time last year, but that non-fatal overdoses have actually declined by 13.6 percent.

Harford County law enforcement, the county government, schools, health department, community organizations, businesses and families who have lost loved ones to drug addiction have made efforts to try and stem the tide in the past three years.

The HOPE trailer is one of those efforts.

Woods, who toured the trailer Wednesday, is the executive director of the EPICENTER at Edgewood, a community center and Mountain Christian’s campus in Edgewood.

He called what he saw in the HOPE trailer “eye-opening.”

“[My wife and I ] raised three kids and I would not have looked in most of those places — and I looked,” the Edgewood resident said.

Woods, who is making the transition to development director for the EPICENTER, said he and his staff have done multiple things to help fight the opioid crisis, such as hosting the HOPE trailer at monthly health fairs, having representatives of the Sheriff’s Office and the county Office of Drug Control Policy work with youths at summer camps and after-school programs.

A handful of his staffers have received training from the Health Department to use Narcan to revive overdose victims, and several staff and volunteers have participated in a peer recovery coaching program provided by the county’s Department of Community Services.

“The key is, make parents and families aware of what to look for, but also educating the kids about some of the dangers that are out there,” Woods said.

Panel discussion

The first of two panel discussions Mathis moderated included Myra Derbyshire, who has been in recovery from addiction for nearly three years and is the program manager for the Char Hope Foundation, plus Joe Ryan, manager of the Office of Drug Control Policy, and Craig Lippens, director of outreach and operations for the Bergand Group.

The Bergand Group has offices in Lutherville and Fallston. It provides “intensive” outpatient treatment services for people struggling with alcohol and drug addiction, according to its website.

Lippens talked about some of the medications physicians affiliated with Bergand use to help treat addiction, such as Suboxone and Vivitrol, which block opiates from stimulating the brain’s reward centers and get a person’s brain chemistry moving in the proper manner again “so people get to an eventual level of normality.”

“The goal for good treatment is to get people stable using whatever tools they have in their toolbox and then getting them connected with the good community supports,” Lippens said.

Community support was a key theme of the second panel discussion. Participants included Jennifer Redding, senior director of behavioral health services for Family and Children’s Services, Sharon Lipford, executive director of Healthy Harford and Jim Haggerty, CEO of Maryland Recovery.

Redding discussed the connections between childhood trauma, whether from emotional, physical or sexual abuse, or from events such as parents divorcing, and how that trauma can lead to addiction or other health problems later in life.

Lipford discussed the close relationship between mental health and addiction, and the high number of suicides occurring in Harford County. She discussed the development of a 24-hour crisis center, on which the nonprofit Healthy Harford is collaborating with the county government, health department and University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health.

She highlighted local programs that train people to help spot signs that a person could be in crisis, including being at risk of suicide. She stressed the need for community collaboration to deal with behavioral health issues.

“It’s really the power of partnerships, of all of us together,” Lipford said.

Haggerty said he has seen “a dramatic shift of public awareness” on addiction issues.

“A gathering like this, even 10, 15 years ago would never have happened,” he said. “We really need to be proud of what’s happening in this community here.”

Orndorff, who visited the HOPE trailer and attended the panel discussions, lives in Havre de Grace and is a Bel Air Rotary member. The mother of four daughters operates a corporate picture framing business in Havre de Grace, which she plans to move to the Armory Marketplace in Bel Air.

“If we work together as a community, we can make a difference in this drug epidemic that our county is currently suffering,” she said.

Orndorff said close family friends lost their 21-year-old son to addiction.

“I think if we get more involved with young people and investing with them, that might be one less person that gets hooked on drugs,” she said.

Panelist Derbyshire, who works for the Char Hope Foundation, later recalled her battles with addiction. The Abingdon resident played lacrosse for Frostburg State University in Western Maryland, but she was also addicted to heroin for about six years.

“I lost hope in myself and I lost faith I myself,” she said.

Derbyshire has been sober since August of 2015. She shared her story during the panel discussion.

She said later that she talked with a woman after the presentation who recognized in her child the same mental health issues that Derbyshire said contributed to her addiction.

“That right there made it worth it for me,” to tell my story, she said.

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