In Anne Arundel County, Police Chief Timothy Altomare wrote a letter that each of his officers carries in his or her pocket. The officers give the letter to anyone they encounter who they believe is suffering from addiction.
In the letter, Altomare tells readers that “people recover from addiction every day” and the county has resources to help them. The county’s hotline, which is listed on the letter, had received 114 calls regarding drug abuse, including 36 for heroin addiction, as of Sept. 11.
“We say all the time that about 80 percent of crime is driven by addiction problems,” Altomare told the Capital Gazette. “The thought popped into my head — ‘What am I doing for every arrestee to try and get them some help?’”
In Anne Arundel County, 566 people overdosed on opioids, including heroin, in the first eight months of 2016. That’s more than the 291 overdoses in 2014 and the 249 overdoses in 2015 combined. There were 24 fatal overdoses in all of 2015, but the fatal overdose total reached 74 by the end of August 2016, according to the Capital Gazette.
“We’ve got some products hitting the street that are between 500 and 5,000 times more powerful than the heroin itself,” Altomare said.
Powerful narcotics such as fentanyl and carfentanil have been linked to surges in drug overdoses in communities across the country.
To combat the scourge, the state of Maryland was recently awarded a portion of the national Strategic Prevention Framework Partnerships for Prescription Drugs grants, which will be used to reinforce prescription drug abuse prevention efforts.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will oversee the distribution of funds. In a written announcement, CDC Director Tom Frieden said the money can be used to implement and evaluate education programs. The programs will raise awareness about the risks associated with abusing prescription drugs by educating students, health care providers and community members.
In August, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said the state would fund $3 million in grants to be used to fight heroin abuse and addiction.
Nearly $2.1 million will be used to fund the ongoing Safe Streets Initiative, and about $930,000 will fund heroin coordinators in law enforcement agencies across the state.
The Safe Streets Initiative is a law enforcement effort that investigates and pursues violent and repeat drug offenders. It also directs offenders suffering from addiction toward treatment. The program is being expanded to include five peer recovery specialists to bolster the treatment aspect of the program.
“Throughout Maryland, from our smallest town to our biggest city, heroin is destroying lives,” Hogan said in a statement. He said a coordinated response from law enforcement and health care providers would be essential to fighting the epidemic.
The programs were implemented in response to recommendations from Hogan’s Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force. One of the recommendations was to expand data sharing and analysis capabilities, and another was to integrate peer specialists into the Safe Streets model.
Safe Streets funding will be distributed to nine law enforcement agencies, including $345,147 for the Annapolis Police Department and $289,807 for Anne Arundel County. Heroin coordinator funding will be distributed to all 17 jurisdictions across the state.
A pair of Anne Arundel community coalitions also received grants in August.
The county’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Services awarded $20,000 to Serenity Sistas’ Inc. and $3,350 to the Center of Transformation to develop strategies for reducing underage drinking. The funds were a part of the state’s Strategic Prevention Framework Community Implementation Grants.