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From the Desk of Linda Norris - Candidate for County Council at Large

Government’s Role: Facilitating Public/Private Solutions

(6/1) Heroin use has resurfaced in our community in recent years, after a heyday in the 70s as a "hippie drug", as a result of prescription opioid abuse. This challenge, which has hit hard in the northern part of Frederick County, provides a good example of the necessity for private resources and government to team up and tackle the issue.

According to health experts, Percocet and methadone, the source of 27 deaths in Frederick County 2011, are the opioids at the root of the problem, though heroin is now replacing the opioids as the drug of choice for those who can no longer cannot get or afford the opioids 10 people overdosed 2012 and 2 people in 2013 from heroin laced with fentanyl, a batch containing a deadly synthetic. The deaths have touched all of us; my daughter went to school with and was broken-hearted over the young woman from Thurmont who lost her life last year.)

As an aspiring County Councilmember, I see the need for our government resources on the front-lines – Sheriffs deputies, state troopers and city/town police, the EMTs and paramedics, to partner with the Health Department, which can facilitate the crisis by tracking the overall health impact to our community and providing educational support in tandem with nonprofit agencies like the Mental Health Association and private drug treatment faciltieis

The collaboration has already begun with the Drug Awareness community events spearheaded by the Sheriffs Office, Drug "Turn-in" days sponsored by local law enforcement agencies, and the Frederick County Health Department’s efforts to train physicians to watch for signs of prescription abuse. Physicians are also being educated and encouraged to sign up for the new state Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. By providing access to databases of prescribed controlled dangerous substances, physicians, nurse practitioners along with pharmacists can watch for signs of overprescription of painkillers.

These education programs are funded through grants and existing staff.

Incidentally, we should be and are following the lead of 188 local overdose prevention programs in the country that now distribute naloxone (also known as Narcan) and have provided training to more than 50,000 people, leading to the reversal of 10,000 overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control. I support efforts of the county public safety departments, including paramedics and ALS staff as well as sheriff’s deputies, who are being trained in the administration of this drug, and urge cooperative purchasing and training among our city and town law enforcement agencies.

The County Council should pass legislation to ensure that our emergency responders are trained and can administer this non-habit forming drug without liability, and that friends and family who report overdoses fall under "Good Samaritan" laws if they are illegal users so that the necessary help can be called for a person in distress, so that even users will do the right thing to call for help to save someone’s life. In too many cases, I’ve heard from my daughter and other young people, users are afraid of being caught and abandon people in emergency situations for fear of being prosecuted, and a "one strike" or limited prosecution guarantee could save more lives and potentially lead others to treatment.

The government’s role is to put our public safety, educational and public health resources to work facilitating support from the private sector and non-profits to solve problems like this. It’s a public-private model that can work for many issues that face our community.

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