On May 20, 42 individuals, including Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman, attended the combined Howard County Alcohol & Drug Abuse Advisory Board (ADAAB) and the county’s Opioid Coalition meeting to hear national and state opioid misuse data. It was presented by Dr. Wilson Compton, deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, former secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and now associate dean at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

A discussion with questions and answers followed the presentations. Compton and Sharfstein told attendees that heroin use often begins with prescription opioid misuse. The path may begin with becoming addicted to prescription medications, or with children having access to prescriptions that don’t belong to them. In addition, they offered ideas for ways that Howard County can respond to the problem of opioid misuse, including better prescribing practices.

Howard County has taken some measures and was praised for its efforts to date, including providing Naloxone training (to reverse potentially fatal opioid overdoses), semi-annual Drug Take Back Days and providing permanent medication collection boxes at three county police stations. County data show 6.8% of 11-year-old youth self-reporting non-prescribed use of opioids, a percentage that grows to 21.9% among high school youth ages 18-plus (according to 2013 the Maryland Youth Risk Behavior Survey).

The meeting was organized and chaired by HC DrugFree’s Executive Director Joan Webb Scornaienchi, chair of ADAAB and coordinator of the new coalition, as well as the county’s Substance Abuse Prevention Coordinator, on behalf of the Howard County Health Department.

“Legal and illegal opioid misuse is a problem in Maryland and causing financial and emotional devastation to far too many families,” said Scornaienchi. “The ongoing support of our county executive, the health department and all the groups and individuals represented at this meeting has empowered us to have more honest discussions about drug misuse in our neighborhoods. As we move forward with an educational media campaign as well as other strategies, we believe we can create change.”

The meeting was held at the Howard County Health Department, in Columbia. Among those in attendance were State’s Attorney Dario Broccolino; Circuit Court Judge William Tucker; HC DrugFree’s staff and board; representatives from the health department; police, fire and rescue services; other county and state agencies; treatment providers; and interested citizens.

Howard County has recently provided three permanent medication collection boxes, and through a partnership with the Howard County Police and HC DrugFree, more boxes are expected to be added.

“If we each remove unwanted or expired medications from our homes,” said Scornaienchi, “we reduce the likelihood of family members getting addicted to legal pain medications and later turning to heroin to get a cheaper high.”

For more information about ADAAB, the new Opioid Coalition, or how to properly dispose of medications, contact [email protected] or call HC DrugFree’s office at 443-325-0040.