Queen Anne’s County officially goes purple
CHESTER — As candles flickered in the dusky light at the Kent Island Volunteer Fire Department Thursday, Sept. 6, the gathered crowd officially kicked off the county’s campaign to go purple.
With 94 opioid overdoses to date and 13 subsequent fatalities, Queen Anne’s County took the opportunity to spread awareness to nearly 50 patrons of the dangers of addiction and the pathways by which many arrived at that point. Also discussed at the kick-off was the all too human cost of losing a loved one to addiction.
“The entire Eastern Shore going purple is allowing us the audience we always wanted,” said County Commissioner Jim Moran. “We’ve been working for this for three years to get the message to people they don’t need drugs. There isn’t much funds out there for this, so this is a
grassroots effort. The grant we received is covering some of what we’re doing, but it’s small and it’s going to take everyone.”
According to Moran, funds spent on prevention are invaluable as prevention attacks the problem at the root. Treatment dollars also put addiction in the proper perspective as an illness rather than something with which to be dealt punitively.
Queen Anne’s County has compiled 81 non-fatal overdoses to date making it the highest tally on the Eastern Shore. The 68 heroin-related arrests also gives the county the second-most on the Eastern Shore.
“In 2013, we were the second county to bring Narcan to police vehicles,” said Queen Anne’s County Sheriff Gary Hofmann. “We saw this epidemic coming in 2014, and people thought we were crazy. Now, sadly, it’s something officers have to use on individuals almost daily. Our goal in law enforcement is to get people into rehabilitation. We’ve been successful lately to do that.”
Among the reasons why, Hofmann explained, was the network of community partners that have opened their doors for treatment beds. First responders are among those dealing with the same individuals overdosing on a regular basis. That totals 11 known repeat offenders.
For those routinely treated for opioid overdoses, the decision to seek treatment is often one that is personal.
Victims of addiction are as varied as they are statistically plentiful. The youngest overdose victim in the county was 19 years old with the oldest being 63 years old. In many such cases, an estimated 80 percent started their drug dependency with abusing prescription medication.
Over 50 percent of incidents in 2018 involved caucasians and that same percentage involved males. The average age of an overdose victim is 30.
“Some of the people we see repeatedly don’t actually want help. We don’t know what the trigger is in their life that will make them want to get help, but we’re here to stand by them. It’s important to stand by someone with an addiction and not treat them like a criminal,” Hofmann said.
The most common form of heroin recovered in both 2017 and 2018 was clear capsules, and it became so pervasive, one subject overdosed twice in two months and another three times in four months, he said.
Other victims of opioid addiction suffered an overdose three months straight from January to March of 2018 and another four times in four months.
During his comments, Hofmann stressed the need to remove the stigma of the addiction overall. According to some in attendance who lost loved ones to the opioid epidemic, it was the “tough love” approach that led their loved ones to once again seek out drugs.
One instance with a 22-year-old female involved an overdose on Aug. 6, 2018, and another just 16 days later that was fatal.
While much of the vigil was focused on helping those ravaged by the opioid epidemic, the sheriff noted the Good Samaritan law is in place to save lives. It states that those who call the authorities for someone in the midst of an overdose have legal immunity so first responders can save the victim’s life. It also means that the victim will not be charged if they are suffering an overdose.
The attention by law enforcement will be on the drug dealer to stop the flow of illegal substances at its core. To that end, drug task force members have used cell phone records, sur veillance operations and other investigative tools to track down the sources of heroin in the county.
For Thomas Rose of Harbor View, the evening was as much about education as it was about remembering loved ones.
“We have an appreciation for [this campaign],” Rose said. “We have family going through this and this a big problem. This is a step in the right direction to bring the community together. People can look at what’s going on around them and help out in any way they can.”
More information on resources and partners for Queen Anne’s County Goes Purple can be found at www.qacgoespurple.org.
Members of the community hold a moment of silence for the victims of opioid addiction.
The families of those who lost someone to opioid addiction were asked to stand together in a moment of remembrance.
Queen Anne’s County Sheriff Gary Hofmann explains the importance of treatment to fight the opioid epidemic.
The Rev. Mark Farnell, senior pastor at Kent Island United Methodist Church, closes out the evening with a prayer.