Tackling the heroin epidemic as one
WYE MILLS — “Together we are stronger” was the sentiment of the sixth annual Lifespan Conference Thursday, April 27, at Chesapeake College.
This year’s conference focused on the opioid and heroin epidemic, and aimed to educate providers and help them network with one another better to combat the problem.
The conference was hosted by Mid-Shore Behavioral Health of Easton, which partnered with Delaware-based Dover Behavioral Health System and the Rockford Center.
“There is such an increasing need in our state,” MidShore Behavioral Health Executive Director Holly Ireland said.
There are new things and information developing every day in this realm, and it makes it hard to keep up the pace — a theme Ireland said could continue for the next five or six years.
She said the number of overdoses and overdose deaths is rising and it needs to go in the opposite direction.
“We are not facing this alone,” Ireland said. “We are all facing this together.”
Throughout the day, presenters from different agencies discussed the heroin and opioid epidemic, and how to better address the crisis that is crippling local communities. Every aspect of this issue was represented either in the audience or at the podium.
Speakers included representatives from the Talbot County Health Department, addictions programs, Healthy Families, social services, Shore Behavioral Health, the University of Maryland Shore Regional Health, Trish Todd from the Maryland Coalition of Families, Sam Bierman and Cheryl Caplan-Zalis of Maryland Addiction Recovery Center in Towson, Capt. James Henning of the Caroline County Sheriff’s Office, Randall Butler of Priority Partners, Dr. Anil Meesala with Dover Behavioral Health System, Senior Talbot County Circuit Court Judge Broughton Earnest and Senior Caroline County Circuit Court Judge Karen Jensen.
Each presenter welcomed questions from the room, and at times, they all engaged in open diacussion.
Ireland said this conference was designed to increase awareness in the behavioral health field and to help people understand the very aspect of the systems that are related to and connected to the substance use treatment process.
“The treatment is not just on the individual,” Ireland said. “But it’s got to be all of us.”
Jenson spoke about the importance of working together and how teamwork helps to facilitate the aspects of the drug court program.
Jenson and Earnest talked about the benefits of drug court and recidivism rates for addicts.
“It’s a team approach,” Jenson said “Judges, coordinators, state’s attorneys, public defenders, treatment, probation and law enforcement.”
“We are all working together to accomplish the same goals,” she said. “In order to achieve those goals, we have to work together and collaborate.”
Valerie Albee founder of Mariah’s Mission attended the conference and said she is in the process of helping three families. She said when people are in that type of situation, they need to know where to go.
“The more information you have, the better,” Albee said.
“There is still so much work out there to do, and if we can come together and work together, it’s incredibly beneficial,” Albee said. “There are so many great agencies here. The networking is great.”
Lee Newcomb of Talbot County Social Services came to the conference to gain more knowledge on the topic and to make those important connections with other agencies.
“I have a lot of knowledge already because I am a social worker,” Newcomb said. “But I have furthered my knowledge today. There are always new things coming.”
Capt. James Henning of the Caroline County Sheriff’s Office was one of the last presenters of the day. He explained how individuals went from prescription drugs to heroin and why.
He said from 2012 to 2013, there was a nationwide crackdown on providers for over-prescribing opioid medications.
“It created a vacuum,” he said. “Heroin stepped in to fill that void.”
Henning showed the group statistics on overdoses and deaths. He discussed the benefits of naloxone, which reverses the effects of an overdose, and the importance of being trained on how to use it.
“There is more to this than just law enforcement,” Henning said. “I am glad to be a part of this because everyone in this room has a part in this, a role to play.”
Henning said everyone in law enforcement is working together to tackle this issue.
“Every county on the MidShore has a heroin response plan,” he said. “All the MidShore sheriffs have a local response plan for their staff, including our beat cop, detectives, task force, and it all comes together.”
But Henning said they cannot do it alone.
“Law enforcement is just one — we can’t arrest the heroin away,” he said. “Everyone has to come to the table to figure out how to do this.”
“We didn’t get here overnight, and we can’t fix it overnight, but we will fix it,” he said.
On Thursday, April 27, Mid-Shore Behavioral Health of Easton held its sixth annual Lifespan Conference. This year’s topic was substance abuse, particularly heroin. Groups from the behavioral health field, law enforcement, judiciary, social workers and health professionals gathered for a day of learning and networking in an effort to combat the epidemic. Pictured: Talbot County Judge Broughton Earnest discusses the benefits of the drug court program, versus a jail sentence.