By Erin Tyszko
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
The opioid and heroin epidemic that is claiming the lives of people in the town of Bel Air has begun turning loved ones into mere numbers.
According to the Harford County Sheriff’s Department, there were 273 overdoses, 66 of them fatal, between Jan. 1 and last Monday.
Those numbers represent an increase from previous years. In 2015, for example, the sheriff’s department reported 201 overdoses, 27 of which were fatal, for the entire year. There were 290 overdoses, with 56 of them being fatal, in 2016.
To raise awareness about the growing problem, the county sheriff’s department held A Human Rope to Stop the Dope event at Bel Air High School last week in which it debuted its HOPE House, a trailer that depicts a teenager’s bedroom to educate parents about 50 potential spots where their children could hide drugs.
Sandra Hartsock, a retired forensic scientist supervisor with the Maryland State Police who helped showcase the trailer, said the county got the idea for H.O.P.E. (Heroin Overdose Prevention Effort) about two years ago.
Hartsock said the county began researching ways to educate parents about drugs and found that several towns and counties around the country were using a mockup of a child’s bedroom to show parents where drugs could be hidden.
Erik Robey, the director of government affairs at the Harford County Sheriff’s Department, said the trailer is “the first of its kind not only in Maryland but in the entire Mid-Atlantic. It is to show parents where kids tend to hide drugs and the signs of what to look for.”
The event at Bel Air High School was held to recognize September as recovery awareness month from drugs like heroin and opioids. The trailer showcased a variety of signs that parents can look for as indications that their children may be using drugs.
For example, parents learned to look for missing shoe laces, which could be used as a tourniquet. Other signs included blood in the sink, a water bottle being disguised as a stash spot, and a clock that was really a scale.
Larry Signorelli, a parent of a Bel Air High School student and the founder of Families Anonymous, a support group established for loved ones dealing with addicts, said parents should not be blamed if their child uses drugs.
“The 3C’s are so important for parents and family members to remember: You didn’t cause this; you can’t control this; and you certainly can’t cure this,” Signorelli said.
Joe Ryan, an administrator for the Office of Drug Control Policy for Harford County, has teamed up with the sheriff’s department to bring awareness to the recent increase in drug-related overdoses, specifically from heroin and opioids.
Jointly, the two agencies are preparing to create a hotline that people can call if they need help with a loved one who is addicted to drugs.
The hotline is being established with part of a $170,000 grant the county received from the state Department of Mental Health and Hygiene.
In addition to the $50,000 being used to create the hotline, the county will spend $30,000 to purchase doses of the opioid antidote Narcan, $40,000 to help individuals access treatment, and $50,000 to support recovery coaches in Bel Air to help people battling addiction.
“Harford County received a grant from the state and we’re trying to establish a central number locally so when individuals are reaching out for help we can give them advice of how to treat their substance abuse problem,” Ryan said.
The latest form of heroin is being cut with fentanyl and car fentanyl, which is a deadly narcotic, according to the Harford County Sheriff’s Department. Drug dealers purchase it for 10 percent less than of the cost of straight heroin.
Along with the heroin epidemic, the opioid crisis is just as common, county officials said. Some of the pharmacies in the heart of Bel Air have the highest rate of opioid prescriptions being filled in the county.
“We have a prescription drug monitoring program in the state, which means if I go to a doctor and I am prescribed an opiate, the doctor checks the computer database to make sure no one else has prescribed me this medication,” Ryan said. “Then when I take it to get refilled they will check to see if I have already filled it at another pharmacy. Starting Oct. 1 it is mandatory for all doctors to check the database.”