Opi­oid cri­sis hit­ting ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties in Mary­land hard­est.

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE -

DEN­TON, MD. | If there is one hope­ful thing about Mary­land’s opi­oid cri­sis, it’s that no one is deny­ing the ob­vi­ous.

“Very hon­estly, noth­ing is work­ing,” says Fred­er­ick County Sher­iff Chuck Jenk­ins. “It’s un­like any­thing we’ve ever seen.”

For ru­ral ar­eas, where com­mu­ni­ties are small and the stigma is large, opi­oids can be par­tic­u­larly in­sid­i­ous. The man who jumped out of the mov­ing am­bu­lance af­ter get­ting re­vived by nalox­one might be an old high school class­mate. The woman sell­ing drugs at the hos­pi­tal to fel­low ad­dicts could be the lit­tle sis­ter of a good friend.

The epi­demic is also a se­ri­ous drag on gov­ern­ment and med­i­cal re­sources in places where bud­gets al­ready are stretched.

But while the opi­oid cri­sis ap­pears to be kick­ing Mary­land’s ru­ral pop­u­la­tions while they’re down, the sil­ver lin­ing might be in the size and in­her­ent close­ness of those com­mu­ni­ties, which are be­gin­ning to co­or­di­nate ef­forts to com­bat opi­oids in ways that sim­ply aren’t pos­si­ble in the state’s more pop­u­lated coun­ties.

“In our small area, opi­oids af­fect pretty much ev­ery fam­ily one way or another,” said Tommy Con­neely, who runs the Lost Sheep Re­cov­ery Mis­sion in Caro­line County and said he has been seven years sober from al­co­hol.

Caro­line, like other ru­ral coun­ties, is be­gin­ning to har­mo­nize their anti-opi­oid ef­forts across a wide range of pub­lic, pri­vate and faith-based groups. The county’s drug and al­co­hol abuse coun­cil in­cludes a di­verse col­lec­tion of law en­force­ment, ed­u­ca­tion, sub­stance abuse and men­tal health of­fi­cials.

And peo­ple like Mr. Con­neely, who, as an ex-cop now in­volved in faith-based re­cov­ery ef­forts, brings a wholly unique per­spec­tive.

The Caro­line drug coun­cil is in the midst of a se­ries of events hosted at vol­un­teer fire de­part­ments, where the FBI doc­u­men­tary “Chas­ing the Dragon” is be­ing shown, fol­lowed by a dis­cus­sion ini­ti­ated by for­mer ad­dicts and their par­ents.

“We found that we had a lot of fam­ily mem­bers [at­tend] who had loved ones in ac­tive ad­dic­tion who needed sup­port,” said Holly Ire­land, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Mid-Shore Be­hav­ioral Health, a re­fer­ral and plan­ning agency that re­ceives some state fund­ing and op­er­ates in Caro­line, Dorch­ester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Tal­bot coun­ties. “What we haven’t quite fig­ured out is how to tackle en­gag­ing the com­mu­nity that is ad­dicted.”

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