The top story of 2017 in Harford County
The numbers are going in the wrong direction, and the Sheriff’s Office and Harford County Task Force continues to fight the opioid epidemic with every tool available, Kyle Andersen, public information specialist for the sheriff’s office, said at the end of November. Drug Enforcement Agency is 100 times more potent than fentanyl, another synthetic opioid that has made its way into the county and is linked to many recent overdose deaths.
“We’re not surprised. We knew it was coming. Now it is here,” Cristie Kahler, public information officer for the Sheriff’s Office, said of the carfentanel related death in early May. At least three other overdoses involving carfentanil have been reported since.
The dangers of opioids went beyond those who abuse them in May when a Harford sheriff’s deputy and two emergency medical responders were treated for overdose symptoms after possibly being exposed to heroin and fentanyl while responding to a call.
“Every time we walk into a room, building, we don’t know what we’re going t o encounter. It’s a whole level of something new,” Richard Gardiner, spokesman for the Harford County Volunteer Fire and EMS Association, said.
Naloxone, a drug that counteracts the effects of opioids, was administered to the deputy, who began to feel ill and experienced symptoms consistent with an opioid exposure: dizziness and a rapid heart rate, the Sheriff’s Office said.
The deputy and the EMS responders, who were not administered Narcan, were taken to Upper Chesapeake Medical Center, where they were treated and released.
A month earlier, the Sheriff’s Office adjusted some its policies to protect police who are responding to calls because of the potential danger heroin poses to the deputies handling it.
Rather than have deputies test heroin or synthetic drug samples in the field, trained detectives began testing every sample of heroin or synthetic opioid at one facility that has an air filtration system.
While one deputy from the narcotics division tests the drug, “a narcotics detective is with him with multiple doses of Narcan in case they’d have an accidental exposure.”
Law enforcement officers also began carrying more powerful doses of naloxone,
which is also sold under the brand name Narcan.
Harford County surpassed 400 heroin overdoses this year during the week of Thanksgiving when there were 11 overdoses, two of them fatal, the Harford County Sheriff’s Office reported.
Last year’s Thanksgiving holiday was even more deadly, when five people died in five days of heroin overdoses.(ERIKA BUTLER AND DAVID ANDERSON)
Deputies began carrying two doses of four ounces each that are nasal inhalers, much easier to administer than the two, one ounce doses that, with multiple parts, were complex and time consuming to put together before they could be administered through the nose.
“It’s strictly because of safety. We don’t want our deputies, or any officer around the county, that are first responders on the scene to be field testing in an open environment,” Capt. Lee Dunbar of the Harford County Task Force said. “It poses a huge health risk.”
A bit of carfentanil the size of a grain of salt could kill someone if it’s airborne and is ingested.
By the year’s end, Narcan was on hand at the county’s libraries and public school nurse stations, and residents and community organizations were being offered free training on how to administer it. House, a mobile drug prevention education center designed to raise awareness and inform parents of the warning signs of controlled dangerous substance use and/or abuse. (Heroin Overdose Prevention Effort) workgroup, parents are able to about signs that may indicate a loved one is abusing heroin or other drugs.
Other efforts to combat the epidemic include other showings of the play “Addicted,” produced by the North Harford High School drama department, which featured recovering addicts who stepped forward to help others in recovery.
Harford young people also joined the fight, creating videos warning their peers of the dangers of drug addiction that were shown in local movie theaters.
The first set was released in June followed by another round in September.
“Through this contest, we invited young people to submit the messages the way they wanted to express them and the way they felt would reach their peers,” a county government spokesperson said.
In their winning video, siblings Emily, Allison, Benjamin and William Dietz “didn’t just want to have a couple faces telling you that doing drugs is wrong,” Emily said. “We wanted to have a couple faces acting out the story of why drug abuse is detrimental.”