Town Hall Meeting Raises Heroin, Opiate Awareness

MIDLAND, MD – On January 29, community members from across Allegany County came together in the Midland Fire Hall to raise awareness about the growing threat that heroin, other opiates, and prescription drugs pose to the region. The town hall meeting, which prominently featured a screening of the 2012 documentary Behind the Orange Curtain, was organized by Allegany County Sherriff Craig Robertson in coordination with the Allegany County Health Department. In addition to Sherriff Robertson, along with Chris Delaney and Rebecca Myers of the Allegany County Health Department, Commissioner Bill Valentine and representatives of the Frostburg and Cumberland city police forces, as well as a representative of the LaVale state police barracks, were in attendance.

Allegany County Sherriff Craig Robertson addresses the crowd in the Midland Fire Hall (TBL/Nick DeMichele).
Allegany County Sherriff Craig Robertson addresses the crowd in the Midland Fire Hall (TBL/Nick DeMichele).

“Opioid and heroin addiction is a problem that we, as a community, need to address,” Sherriff Robertson asserted at the head of the crowded room. “Throughout the county, we need to get the word out.” Indeed, the evening’s events focused on awareness and education of the evolving crisis, specifically targeting the parents of the community’s youth. Health Department officials shared statistics gathered from a 2013 Youth Risk Behavioral Survey conducted in Allegany County Public Schools. According to the report, 33 middle school students had experimented with heroin in 2013 – the latest data – while 81 high school students had experience with heroin use. Overall, the data concludes that, when compared to the Maryland state average, Allegany County has a higher proportion of students experimenting with heroin and other opiates.

Citing abuse of heroin and prescription drugs as a nationwide epidemic, Sherriff Robertson (and the film) reiterated the nondiscriminatory nature of drug addiction. From the affluent suburbs of Los Angeles to the rural towns of Allegany County – which has a median household income lower than the state of Alabama – drug addiction spares no region and is intensifying in severity at an alarming rate.

Indeed, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has identified the epidemic as a state priority, having established the Maryland Heroin and Opioid Task Force and Coordinating Council. State initiatives such as rehabilitation alternatives to incarceration for non-violent drug users, as well as state-funded trainings for the administration of Narcan, a fast-acting antagonist to opiate overdoses, are being explored and implanted. The latter is currently being funded and operated by the Allegany County Health Department, which has trained “over 121” law enforcement officers and a similar amount of citizens to administer potentially life-saving doses of Narcan.

The well-attended event concluded with law enforcement officers, as well as drug addiction counselors and Health Department officials, remaining for questions and personal assistance. Sherriff Roberston stated that similar education events will likely be held throughout the county, citing Westernport and Lonaconing as potential future sites.

For more information about Health Department resources and rehabilitation/outpatient programs, click here.

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