When people walk into the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center in Columbia they are often in tears, often hopeless, often coming for help at the most difficult times of their life.
“Our job is to help them reconnect to hope,” said Ayesha Holmes, executive director of the nonprofit crisis center.
For nearly 50 years the center’s focus has been on providing 24-hour mental health services. Now, through a new grant, the center is expanding to provide services for substance abuse with an emphasis on opioid addiction.
The center, working in partnership with the Howard County Health Department, received a nearly $1.1 million opioid response grant from the Maryland Department of Health to establish 24-hour crisis services at the center.
The grant was announced at a press conference at the center Tuesday.
Holmes said the money will be used to create 10 living room-type spaces at the center for people to be “calm and comfy” as they await treatment. Patients will be connected to social workers and counselors, then can be referred to either an inpatient or outpatient program elsewhere, depending on their needs. Treatment will not occur at Grassroots.
The center will also provide on-site stabilization, treatment planning, medication, referrals and follow-up planning.
Grassroots provides crisis intervention services, emergency and transitional shelter and community education. Holmes, who took the helm of the center a year ago, said officials have seen a growing need in the county for additional support and services to combat addiction.
According to Howard County police, there have been 14 non-fatal and four fatal overdoses in the county in 2019, with two of the fatalities being opioid-related.
Last year, there were 13 non-fatal and three fatal overdoses in the month of January. And for all of 2018, the county recorded 187 non-fatal overdoses and 41 fatal — 31 of those being opioid-related.
County Executive Calvin Ball said public safety has been his top priority since being elected, and that the county must face the problem of addiction.
“Howard County is known as a place of affluence, opportunities, incredible schools and safe streets, but we are not immune from the tragedy that the opioid crisis has inflicted upon this nation,” he said in comments at the grant announcement Tuesday.
“Unfortunately when it comes to opioid addiction … we can do more [and] we will do more,” he said.
Ball met with Gov. Larry Hogan last month, and the two discussed topics including the opioid epidemic. In his comments Ball thanked Hogan — as well as Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford and Steve Schuh, the former Anne Arundel county executive who is now director of Maryland’s Opioid Operational Command Center — for the grant.
Last March, Hogan declared a state of emergency on Maryland’s opioid crisis, pledging to spend $10 million a year over the next five years to battle the epidemic. Rutherford, a resident of Columbia, serves as the chair of the state’s Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force.
Howard Police Chief Lisa Myers said Tuesday the end goal of combined efforts in the health, crisis response and law enforcement communities is to “keep people from using drugs.”
County police and fire services are on the front lines, responding to overdoses and “seeing people at their most desperate times,” she said.
The police department has a full-time opioid coordinator who monitors overdose trends, works with victims and families and tries to help stop the cycle of death and drug misuse, Myers said.
All county police and the fire department’s ambulances and fire engines, carry the overdose combatant naloxone, also known under its commercial name Narcan, at all times. Howard fire and rescue services has increased the amount of naloxone carried to better combat the epidemic, a fire department spokesman said.
The drug, which can reverse the symptoms of an opioid overdose, is also available in automated external defibrillator boxes in all county-owned buildings.
Grassroots officials said that prior to the grant, people often came to the center seeking immediate treatment, something staff could not provide. Many times the center would have to tell people to come back days later.
Holmes said the center is “incredibly excited” to not have to turn people away and instead say: “Stay with us.”
“We are really ready to serve,” she said.
Dr. Maura Rossman, Howard County health officer, said the addition of Grassroots as an entry point for treatment will complement services that the county currently offers. The health department has substance abuse help available by calling 410-313-6202 or going to hchealth.org/GetHelp.
“Our goal is long term recovery,” Rossman said. “[Grassroots’] expanded services will be available to our most vulnerable population.”