Tack­ling the heroin epi­demic as one

Record Observer - - News - By DENAE SPIERING dspier­ing@ches­pub.com

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.

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